Out of all the types of back issues, perhaps none have such a funny name as sciatica, the namesake of the sciatic nerve. Some medical terms, such as slipped disc or “down in the back” easily explain what’s taken place, some, such as aches and pains offer general overviews and could encompass a number of issues, and then there’s those that come with an awkward moniker. Dating back to the mid 1400s (1451, though it’s debatable), sciatica is one of those “what exactly does that mean?” terms.
What’s even more confusing is that sciatica refers to the pain in several different nerves, or just one, depending on each patient’s situation. Following the sciatic nerve, this condition can affect a person in the back, rear, down the leg, or anywhere in between. No wonder it was given such a quirky name.
For those diagnosed with the condition, it means they have been experiencing a series of symptoms in the lower back, rear, or hip areas – or any combination of the above. In extreme cases, patients even feel pain radiate down into their knees. Symptoms include areas of numbness, sharp pains, or the feeling of “pins and needles” throughout any of the previously mentioned areas. It’s also common for patients to feel these aches in one side of the body, though that’s not exclusively true.
Though its results can vary, sciatica is generally caused by the same series of events. Each person has five different sciatic nerves, and when those nerves experience compression or irritation (for whatever reason), it results in aches and pains. Likely due to the amount of nerve pressure taking place; the more pressure on each nerve, the more pain that manifests from that unwanted friction, and vice versa.
Even further complicating the term, sciatica refers only to the symptoms caused by said nerves, not the reason for the damage in the first place. Sciatica is simply a stepping stone into determining back pain, doctors then diagnose a cause to help treat both medical conditions. Treating just the sciatica won’t cure the original issues, while treating only the original issue will take time for the sciatica to result in lower amounts of pain.
In any case, those with regular back pains should always talk with their doctor, even after sciatica has been diagnosed.
Obviously, the most effective method is to treat the medical issue that’s causing sciatica in the first place. Often times this means surgery or a massive lifestyle change, such as removing certain physical activities or routine stretches and exercises. As stated above, it might also be necessary to treat sciatica symptoms. This can be done through medicine (or other forms of pain management), surgery, or epidurals. Using products, such as supportive pillows or a back wedge that removes spinal pressure, can also reduce ongoing symptoms.
No matter the level of symptoms, it is always best to talk with you doctor about the different treatment options available. As well as what’s causing your sciatica.
To learn more about the condition, head to the Mayo Clinic’s sciatica page.