It is quite common to hear more than one back pain sufferer make mention of his or her ‘sciatica’ yet many of us have no idea what this is or what it means in terms of back pain. Sciatica refers to symptoms that affect the sciatic nerve, which is one of the most important nerve paths in the human body.
The sciatic nerve is located along the length of the back of the legs, which is why is so often associated with back problems. A compressed disc or a pinched nerve can often cause sciatic pain, but given the location of the sciatic nerve a leg injury may also lead to extreme back pain.
What Is Sciatica?
The simplest way to understand sciatica is that it is a type of pain to the sciatic nerve. This pain can occur along the length of the leg, although interestingly enough sciatic pain often occurs in one leg or the other. It is rare for a person to suffer sciatic pain in both legs at the same time.
Sciatic pain can extend from the legs to the lower back area, near the hips.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Often back pain sufferers refer to any lower back pain as sciatica, but this is not the case. One can have lower back pain that has nothing to do with the sciatic nerve, however if there has been an injury to the sciatic nerve, lower back pain is to be expected.
Sciatic pain is a unique creature in that it can be debilitating and severe for some, and sporadic and annoying for others. If you experience any of the following symptoms you may have damage or injury to the sciatic nerve:
- Burning or tingling sensation down the back of the leg.
- Pain in the back of the leg that gets worse when you sit.
- Shooting pain in the leg that makes standing difficult and painful.
- Numbness in the leg or foot.
- Weakness and restricted range of motion in the leg and lower back.
- Constant pain to the lower back and butt.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (often with untreated severe sciatic pain).
These symptoms can worsen and lead to more severe symptoms if left untreated. Get in to see your doctor right away if this pain lasts longer than a few days.
Leg Injuries & Sciatica
A common question from those who suffer from issues related to the sciatic nerve is, can a leg injury cause sciatica. The answer is, ‘it depends’. In fact it depends on a variety of issues, most notably where along the leg the injury occurred.
Injuries to the lower leg—below the knee—is unlikely to lead to any real symptoms of sciatica, but any injury to the sciatic nerve does lead to sciatica. Lower leg injuries however are not likely to lead to sciatica with accompanying back pain.
When the upper leg—the thigh and hip area—is injured, you are more likely to suffer from acute back pain related to sciatica. While some leg injuries to the back of the leg can lead to injury or damage to the sciatic, not all leg injuries cause sciatic pain. However you should understand that many leg injuries can present with symptoms of sciatica such as pain, tingling and numbness and limited range of motion to the leg.
Most of the time sciatica disappears on its own within a few days. When it does not, a diagnosis may be necessary to assess where the injury is located. A basic leg injury can be rather simple to diagnose, however many times a CT scan or MRI is necessary to get a clear picture of the source of the pain.
Treatment For Sciatica
Once you have been diagnose with sciatica you will have to undergo treatments to alleviate the pain and other symptoms. Common treatments for sciatica are back pain treatments as these muscles work as a team. You may be required to undergo massage or physical therapy, exercise, medication or chiropractic adjustments.
Treatments for sciatica are most often minimally invasive and will work to less symptoms until the sciatica has gone away. In some instances, surgery may be required, but this quite rare.
Document your symptoms and include information such as when the pain began, the severity of the pain, how long it lasts and when the pain is the worst. This can help your doctor with a diagnosis if sciatica does not dissipate on its own.
Written By: Updated: June 27,2011