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Sciatica is a painful condition that affects the lower back and the leg. Experienced when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated, sciatica leads to pain that is typically felt on just one side of the body. Besides discomfort, sciatica is known to cause numbness in the affected regions of the body, as well as trouble with controlling the leg.
When a person has sciatica, pain radiates from the lower back down to the thigh, extending downward to the back of the calf. In some cases, pain from sciatica flows upward as well, affecting the hip, and back down toward the foot. For many affected individuals, pain from sciatica is enough to impair the performance of everyday tasks.
As the largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve has great range, extending from the lumbar spinal cord down through the leg. Frequently, this nerve 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 infections, as well as pressure from bones in the region. Injuries and muscle spasms may lead to sciatica as well.
Sciatica is fairly common during pregnancy. In the final months of pregnancy, the weight of the uterus may exert pressure on the sciatic nerve. Changes in posture may lead to pregnancy–related sciatic as well. In some cases, muscular tension, commonly experienced during late pregnancy, may be enough to trigger a bout of sciatica.
A diagnosis of sciatica simply recognizes the symptoms that are present. It does not specifically address what is causing the painful condition. In order for a diagnosis to be complete, it must uncover the cause of the irritation to the sciatic nerve.
To diagnose sciatica, a physician typically performs a medical examination and learns the patient’s medical history. X-rays, computed axial tomography (CAT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be used in diagnosing sciatica as well. Proper diagnosis is very important, as treatment may be incomplete or unsuccessful if the causes of irritation to the sciatic nerve are not discovered.
Sciatica treatments vary, depending on the cause of the nerve compression. They can include anti-inflammatory and pain medications, physical therapy, and surgery to relieve sciatic compression. Chiropractic manipulation and steroidal injections may be used as well.