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Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica Explained

The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest nerve in the human body. It may also be the most commonly known nerve as it can be a great source of pain for many people.

Sciatic Nerve Anatomy

You may remember from our series on Spinal Anatomy that one of the primary functions of the spine is to protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord is made up of many nerves that carry information back and forth between the body and the brain.

The Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Location of the Sciatic Nerve

Nerve fibers that emerge from the spinal canal near L4 and in the sacral region merge to form the sciatic nerve. From there it travels down the back of each leg. When it reaches the knee its two branches split apart into the tibial nerve and the common peroneal nerve.

Sciatic Nerve Function

The primary function of the sciatic nerve is to send signals to and from the thigh muscles. Through the tibial and common peroneal nerve branches the sciatic nerve is also indirectly responsible for monitoring senses and controlling the muscles of the lower legs and feet.

Common Sciatic Nerve Pain Symptoms

Sciatica is the term most people use to describe pain associated with the sciatic nerve. Typical pain symptoms can include:

  • Burning or tingling down the leg(s)
  • A shooting pain
  • Pain in the leg(s) or buttox, especially when sitting
  • Lower back pain
  • Hip pain
  • Weakness or numbness in the leg(s) or feet

Depending on the cause of the sciatica the symptoms may be felt in one side of the body or in both.

Note: If you’re suffering from the above symptoms and also experience a loss of bladder or bowel control you should seek medical attention immediately.

Sciatic Nerve Pain Causes

The majority of sciatica cases are found to be caused by spinal disc herniation. In other words, the disc(s) located between the vertebrae rupture and the material inside is released into the spinal canal, compressing the root of the sciatic nerve. This compression, along with inflammation of surrounding tissue causes sciatica.

However, even though disc herniation is the most common cause of sciatica it’s not the only cause. Other conditions which may cause sciatica are:

Sciatic Nerve Pain Relief

Sciatic nerve pain associated with lumbar disc herniation often resolves itself within 6-8 weeks. Therefore, a conservative treatment approach is often recommended.

Many doctors will recommend the use of NSAIDs to help with the pain.

There is some evidence to suggest that physical spinal manipulation, often performed by a chiropractor, can be helpful in reducing sciatic pain symptoms.

Surgical removal of the disc (called discectomy) can provide short term relief of sciatica symptoms. However, the evidence is unclear as to whether this surgery has any long term effects on sciatica.

Other treatment options may be considered when sciatica is caused by trauma to the spine or a tumor.

References

  1. http://www.innerbody.com/image_nervov/nerv23-new.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sciatic_nerve
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sciatica
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