What is the sciatic nerve?
The human body contains two sciatic nerves that are located on each side of the body.
Specifically, the sciatic nerves begin in the lower back, pass through the buttocks, extend into the legs and end at the top of the knees.
These nerves ensure the motricity and the sensitivity of the legs. They are thus essential.
Symptoms of a pinched sciatic nerve
In common parlance, a pinched sciatic nerve is often referred to as pain in the lower back, buttocks and/or thighs.
In fact, sciatic nerve pain is more likely to occur when the nerve is compressed, pinched, inflamed or injured.
The pain is usually present on one side only. It may be localized in one area or wider along the nerve. The type of pain produced is referred to as "neuropathic," as it involves a nerve. The pain usually manifests itself as tingling, numbness or burning. A feeling of weakness in the legs is also possible, although this is less common.
Causes of pain
Several health conditions can be responsible for sciatic nerve pain.
Herniated discs, osteoarthritis, stenosis of the vertebral canal, and edema caused by a lumbar sprain are the most common causes. Much rarer causes, such as Paget's disease of the bone, nerve damage due to diabetes, hematoma or an abscess, can also be responsible.
However, establishing a cause for the pain is often impossible.
It should be noted that sciatic nerve damage is not the only possible cause of pain in this area of the body. In fact, it is possible that other nerves are affected and responsible for the symptoms experienced. It is also possible that musculoskeletal pain, i.e. very sharp, very localized pain related to movements, is responsible for discomfort in the back and legs.
The following may increase the risk of developing sciatic nerve pain:
- Manual work
- History of lower back pain
In order to avoid developing sciatic nerve pain or to prevent its recurrence, various measures can be put in place to prevent it.
First, aerobic exercises, such as walking and swimming, can help reduce pain. These types of activities can also increase muscle strength and help maintain a healthy weight, both of which reduce pain caused by sciatic nerves.
If these options are attempted, supervision by a healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist may be beneficial.
Finally, maintaining good posture and using safe lifting techniques are also effective preventive measures.
The diagnosis of sciatic nerve pain is usually made by the physician following a clinical examination of the patient based on the symptoms and location of the pain.
In some situations, medical imaging is sometimes necessary to make the diagnosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) are the two most common tests physicians use.
If you are experiencing pain that may be related to sciatic nerves, talk to a healthcare professional who can advise or refer you.
Treatment for pain relief
There is no cure for sciatic nerve pain, unless it is caused by one of the above-mentioned causes. The various treatments available are aimed at relieving the pain, although in a significant proportion of cases, the pain associated with sciatic nerves resolves itself without any treatment.
In some situations, analgesic medications such as acetaminophen, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants may be appropriate. Prescription drugs for nerve pain and cortisone may sometimes be needed when the pain is more severe and persistent.
In all cases, a consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended before starting any treatment to ensure its effectiveness and safety.
Finally, in some situations, surgery may be necessary.