The 2 sciatic nerves are the longest in your body, running all the way from your lower back through the thighs and calves to the feet.
Sciatica is a set of symptoms caused either by pressure on the sciatic nerve in your lower back or buttocks, or damage to the nerve roots that feed into the nerve. Complications from sciatica include pain along the entire length of the nerve, usually felt only on one side of the body.
Nerves enter and exit the spinal cord all down its length, passing through small openings between each vertebra. Nerve roots also stick out through these openings, exchanging signals with the rest of the body.
Your vertebrae are separated from each other by discs made of cartilage. If a disc is damaged by injury or aging, the inner part can bulge or slip through the outer layer. This “extruded” or “herniated” disc may then compress or inflame a nerve root, or even injure it. If this happens in your lower back, complications from sciatica are the result.
Osteoarthritis is another common cause of nerve root damage and sciatic pain, in which bone spurs or bits of protruding bone press on nerve roots. Older people may also develop a condition called spinal stenosis, where the space around the spinal cord narrows and squeezes nerves. Rarely, the sciatic nerve may also be compressed in the pelvis or buttocks.
Complications from sciatica include radiating pain through the buttock and down the back of one of your thighs and legs. Sciatic pain can be shooting or burning, sharp or dull, non-stop, or intermittent. It may be intense and acute, or a feeling of numbness and tingling in parts of the leg. You may feel a burning pain in your lower back, and gradually increasing leg pain.Sneezing, coughing, straining, bending, or lifting can make all these symptoms worse.
In rare cases, people suffering from sciatica as a result of a slipped or herniated disc may be confined to bed. Bowel and bladder control may also be affected as a result of pressure on the sciatic nerve in your lower spine. Also, a feeling of weakness may be felt in one or both legs. It’s wise to consult your doctor immediately if any of these symptoms occur.
Although most people recover fully, complications from sciatica can sometimes include permanent nerve damage.
Take the pain you are feeling as a warning sign that something is wrong. Visit the sciatica section of our website so you can learn everything you need to know about sciatica and how to treat it.