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What Is Sciatica?

Jan 17, 2008
Sciatica is the term applied to symptoms that develop due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerves arise initially as a group of smaller nerves that branch off from the spinal cord on both sides of the lower lumbar and sacral area. This group of smaller nerves comes together in the pelvis as the sciatic nerve which then runs down each leg towards the foot, dividing into two parts in the lower leg.

Disc bulges / herniations are the most common sources of sciatic nerve irritation. A herniated disc can push against one or more of the component parts of the sciatic nerve where they arise from the spinal cord. In addition, disc injuries may be accompanied by swelling and inflammation, which can further compress and irritate nerves. The symptoms may be felt all or part of the way along the course of the sciatic nerve, beginning in the buttock area and extending down the leg, sometimes all the way to the foot.

Other sources of sciatica include bone spurs and direct trauma to the nerve itself, such as with an impact or heavy pressure applied just behind the hip joint. In rare occasions, a spinal tumor can compress the components of the sciatic nerve in the spinal canals, and in a few cases, a cyst or tumor may compress the sciatic nerve at the knee.

Contrary to a common misconception, not all leg pain is sciatica. True sciatica is characterized as being mostly in the back of the leg, and may be felt as a sharp pain, burning, tingling, or like an electric shock. But even symptoms that meet that description are not a definite indicator of true sciatica. In some cases, knots of contraction called trigger points in a muscle called the piriformis that is found in the buttock area can cause referred pain that closely mimics sciatica. Trigger points in other muscles in the buttocks and upper thigh can cause referred pain in the side of the leg that may be mistaken for sciatica as well.

In most cases of true sciatica, the treatment options are most often directed at decreasing inflammation and/or treating the bulging disc. In most cases, sciatica will eventually go away with or without special treatment, but because of the severity of sciatica symptoms, many sufferers will seek out professional care. Unfortunately, the most commonly available treatments often fail to bring relief and may have potentially serious side-effects. Fortunely there have been some new developments and a new treatment is now available that provides safer and more effective treatment for many sciatica patients.
About the Author
Dr. George Best has been helping people recover from sciatica since 1992. For more information, check out another of his articles on Sciatica Symptom Relief, or visit his website on Sciatica.
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