When the sciatic nerve experiences some type of issue or problem, this will result in what is referred to as sciatica. Five different nerve roots are paired together in the lumbar spine that comprise the sciatic nerve. Nerve roots are interconnected, they do not exist on their own.
This means that these roots are connected to the nervous system as a whole and can transmit pain to various parts of the body.
Excruciating pain in the large nerve that runs all the way from the lower region of the back down through the legs can be debilitating and affect sufferers differently.
But what exactly causes this injury? There are a handful of common causes of sciatica that shed light on how this pain is activated.
Sciatica pain can affect the back, hips, buttocks, and legs. Typically what happens is lower back pain extends downward and can often feel like pressure or a constant prick of a needle. It frequently travels to other parts of the body, such as the hip, buttocks, and leg.
Most often it affects one side of the body more than the other. The pain caused by sciatica typically gets worse when sitting. It also flares up during sudden movements brought on by coughing or sneezing.
More advanced cases sometimes come with weakness, numbness and tingling in the affected leg. Usually, the symptoms of sciatica come on suddenly.
Herniated disk – this is the most common cause of sciatica. Roughly 90% of sciatica nerve pain is the result of a herniated disk. Disks in the back act as a barrier and cushion between the vertebrae of the spine. Depending on your level of activity, your flexibility, and your age, disks can become compromised and make you more susceptible to injury. This type of injury commonly occurs when you are lifting something heavy.
When one of the disks is able to push through its outer lining, it can press up against the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica. While there is the direct compression of the root of the nerve to contend with, the disc material itself also poses a problem. It contains hyaluronic acid which can cause nerve inflammation.
The nerve compression coupled with the nerve inflammation is a terrible combination. This type of injury happens to 1 in 50 people at some time in their life. Depending on the severity of the injury, symptoms can last up to 6 or 8 weeks.
Spinal stenosis – aging can cause the vertebrae to experience natural wear and tear. This then leads to the spinal canal narrowing which can inadvertently put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This typically is seen most commonly in adults over the age of 60.
Spinal tumors – this is the rarest case of the listed options, but it does still occur. If a tumor, whether malignant or benign, grows near, alongside or inside of the spinal cord, it can potentially affect the sciatic nerve.
Piriformis Syndrome – deep in the buttocks, there is a muscle that which connects the upper thighbone and the lower spine, it happens to run directly across the sciatic nerve. If that muscle begins to spasm or has any type of strain, this can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and trigger symptoms of sciatica. This condition is typically more common in women.
Pregnancy – when a woman is pregnant, she may be at greater risk for experiencing aches and pains linked directly to sciatica because the developing uterus can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This can be difficult for expecting women as there are often already a slew of symptoms and changes they have to deal with and adjust to during pregnancy.
Trauma – as is the case with all parts of the body, any type of injury or blunt force trauma can have lasting effects on parts of the body. Any type of external force that impacts the lumbar or sacral spinal nerve can cause sciatica. High contact sports like football can cause trauma, as can any kind of accident – a fall or a motor vehicle collision can result in damage to the sciatic nerve.