Sciatica is a pain in the leg due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain generally goes from the front of the thigh to the back of the calf, and may also extend upward to the hip and down to the foot. In addition to pain, there may be numbness and difficulty moving or controlling the leg.
Although sciatica is a relatively common form of low back pain and leg pain, the true meaning of the term is often misunderstood. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is irritating the nerve root and causing the pain.
Causes of sciatica
The most common cause of sciatica is a "slipped disc" (a herniated disc in the spine). Other conditions that can cause or aggravate sciatica include roughening and enlarging of the vertebrae, tension in the piriformis muscle, infections, and tumors.
Because of the many conditions that can compress nerve roots and cause sciatica, treatment options often differ from patient to patient. A combination of treatment options is often the most effective course.
Most cases of sciatica can be effectively treated by physical therapy and appropriate changes in environment (for example cushioning, or chair and desk height). Other conservative treatment options include anti-inflammatory medications (i.e. NSAIDs or oral steroids), pain medications, epidural steroid injections, heat therapy and/or ice massage therapy. Chiropractic manipulation often helps. In approximately 10-20% of cases, surgery is required to correct the problem.