Sciatica is one of those words that thrown around all too often.
You’ve probably heard of it, but do you really know what it is?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation being thrown around when people start talking about sciatica. What most people don’t understand, though, is sciatica is not a diagnosis.
Sciatica The Symptom Not The Diagnosis
Time and time again you may hear people say that they suffer from sciatica.
They’re not wrong either, but what they’re talking about is the symptom they experience when they have pain running down the back of their leg.
The sciatica nerve is the longest nerve in your body starting in your lower back, running into the buttock and making its way down the back of the leg where it branches off into two other nerves.
You’ll keep hearing me say it. Sciatica is a symptom, not a diagnosis. There is always an underlying problem that leads to the sciatica symptoms you experience. Saying you have sciatica is like telling someone you have dizziness.
But what’s the underlying cause of the dizziness you experience? Or in this case sciatica!
What’s the Cause Of Your Sciatica
Finding the underlying causes of sciatica is the key to getting rid of your pain.
Since true sciatica only occurs when you experience pain in the back of your leg this helps narrow down the root cause of your problem.
While most people will describe pain anywhere in their leg as sciatica, you will only be diagnosed with sciatic symptoms when the pain you have, whether it be sharp, shooting, electric or numb goes down the back of our leg in the distribution of the sciatic nerve.
The Most Common Underlying Cause Of Sciatica
- Slipped Disc
Have you ever been working in the garden or cleaning up at home only to turn to quickly or pick something incorrectly and have a sharp pain going from your lower back into your leg?
If you have, chances are you’ve “slipped a disc.”
A slipped or bulging disc otherwise known as a lumbar herniated disc occurs when a sudden pressure causes the disc in your spine to protrude compressing against one of the nerves in your lower back.
The discs in your spine act as a shock absorber to decrease stress on the bones. When to much pressure is put on them at once it can cause the disc to protrude outwards.
The very last vertebra in your lower back, your L5/S1 disc is most commonly affected.
The nerves that connect to your L5/S1 vertebra give sensation to the back of your leg. When a disc protrudes against this nerve that’s what gives you the pain you describe as sciatica all the way from your lower back and down your leg.
Since any problem in your spine which compresses against the L5/S1 nerve is going to cause your sciatic pain here are some other conditions other than slipped discs which can give you sciatic symptoms.
- Degenerative Disc Disease
Like anything, over time, we age and get older.
As your spine begins to age the bones degenerate and wear out.
The wear and tear that your body experiences cause structural change and weakening to both the discs and bones in the spine.
This weakening causes the disc to protrude leading to inflammation of the nerve. If the compression and inflammation on the nerve are significant enough this will also cause your sciatic pain
- Lumbar Canal Stenosis
On the topic of degeneration, as bones wear out they no longer have the nice shape and structure that they had when you were younger.
The nerves in your spine run through a canal or small hole that is made up of the connection of the bones on top and below it in the spine.
When the shape of the bone changes it causes narrowing of the canal in the spine. This narrowing causes the bone to compress against the nerve root in your back.
If this occurs at your L5/S1 disc which is extremely common since it is the very last bone in your spine this will again cause true sciatica and pain all the way down the back of your leg.
Do You Have True Sciatica
Sometimes it’s hard to determine what your pain is and whether it’s the symptoms of sciatica or not.
Visiting a health professional is always important especially if you’re pain is not going away or getting worse to make sure that you know how best to manage your pain and what you can do to relieve it.