What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a painful condition that affects the lower back and leg. Experienced when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated, sciatica causes pain that is usually felt on only one side of the body. In addition to discomfort, sciatica is known to cause numbness in the affected regions of the body, as well as problems controlling the leg.

When a person has sciatica, the pain radiates from the lower back to the thigh, spreading down the back of the calf. In some cases, sciatica pain also flows up through the hip and back toward the foot. For many affected people, the pain of sciatica is enough to affect the performance of everyday tasks.

As the largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve has a large range, stretching from the lumbar spinal cord to the leg. This nerve often becomes irritated due to pressure caused by a herniated disc. Symptoms can be caused by anything that inflames or irritates the sciatic nerve. Such irritation can come from internal bleeding and infection, as well as pressure from the bones in the region. Muscle injuries and spasms can also cause sciatica.

Sciatica is quite common during pregnancy. In the last months of pregnancy, the weight of the uterus can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Changes in posture can also lead to pregnancy-related sciatica. In some cases, muscle tension, commonly experienced during late pregnancy, can be enough to trigger a sciatica attack.

A diagnosis of sciatica simply acknowledges the symptoms that are present. It does not specifically address what is causing the painful condition. For a diagnosis to be complete, you must discover the cause of the sciatic nerve irritation.

To diagnose sciatica, a doctor usually performs a medical exam and learns the patient's medical history. X-rays, computerized axial tomography (CAT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used to diagnose sciatica. Proper diagnosis is very important, as treatment may be incomplete or unsuccessful if the causes of sciatic nerve irritation are not discovered.

Treatments for sciatica vary, depending on the cause of the nerve compression. They may include anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications, physical therapy, and surgery to relieve sciatic compression. Chiropractic manipulation and steroid injections may also be used.

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