The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. The nerve extends from the lower end of the spinal cord, through the back of the thigh, and dividing below the knee.
Sciatica, then, refers to pain originating from the sciatic nerve and can be felt in the lower back, buttock or back of the leg. This means the problem is rooted in the lower lumbar region of the spine, but it is felt at different points on the sciatic nerve and its branches.
While sciatica itself is not a medical diagnosis, it is an indicator of a larger issue and medical condition. In many cases, a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis is the underlying cause of sciatica and will require medical attention.
Sciatic pain can vary from an infrequent, minor annoyance to a constant and debilitating problem. Acute sciatic pain can occur suddenly and will usually heal within several days or weeks, but chronic sciatic pain, or pain that persists more than 6-8 weeks or longer, is indicative of a larger problem. Major symptoms to look for that could be sciatica include, but are not limited to:
- Constant nerve pain. A common indicator is a chronic pain that occurs on one side of the buttock or leg – usually not both – and likely gets worse when sitting. This pain can also make it difficult to stand up or walk.
- Depending on where the sciatic nerve is damaged, numbness could occur throughout the leg or on specific parts of the foot and toes.
- Rather than a dull, aching pain, sciatica suffers often describe their pain as a burning, tingling or searing sensation. This is the “pins and needles” feeling that occurs in your leg or foot.
- Usually accompanying one or more of the symptoms listed above, weakness in the leg will occur that makes the leg or foot feel heavy and significantly interferes with movement. This is often described as feeling as though you’re having to drag your lower leg or foot.
If you suspect you are suffering from sciatica, consult with your family doctor to see if your pain can be treated with conservative methods.
If you know you have sciatica and are looking for stronger treatment options or a possible surgical fix, please contact the experienced staff at NJSO for a consultation.