So, your doctor told you that you have sciatica…what does that even mean?
Sciatica is actually a symptom, not a diagnosis. All it really tells you is that you have pain that radiates down the back of your leg. The term is used to describe pain as a result of irritation or injury to the sciatic nerve.
Your next question might be, what is the sciatic nerve?
The sciatic nerve originates from several nerve roots coming from your lower back (L4, L5, S1, S2 and S3). They all join together to form one large nerve that runs along the back of your leg. Throughout its course, the sciatic nerve breaks off into many branches allowing motor control of many muscles in your hip and leg and allowing sensation from most of your leg to be relayed back to your brain for interpretation.
Although the most common pain pattern of ‘sciatica’ runs down the back of the leg, (see ‘S1 Root Pain’ in the photo below), different patterns can present instead. The sciatic nerve splits into several different nerves along its course and depending on which segment or location is irritated, there might be pain in different parts of the leg.
Pain from the sciatic nerve is often described as sharp, shooting pain down the leg. However, it can present in other ways such as numbness and tingling, achiness or cramping.
There are many different things that can cause sciatica. Below are three common examples of diagnoses leading to pain along the sciatic nerve.
Between each vertebra in our spine we have a disc that allows for better spinal flexibility and helps to keep the structure of our spine. These discs are fibrous on the outside with a gel-like substance on the inside. Over time, with every day wear and tear, the outer fibrous section can deteriorate and slowly split. This may eventually lead to the inner gel-like substance poking through and compressing or chemically irritating the nerve nearby. This compression and/or irritation of the nerve root can cause pain down the distribution of the nerve – if the nerve root involved is one of L4-S3, then sciatica can occur.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
As we age, degeneration of joints may occur – this can include the joints in our spine as well. Typically with degeneration, spinal ligaments may thicken and bony spurs are formed – if the bony spurs are located adjacent to where nerve roots exit the spine, they can irritate the nerve and cause sciatica symptoms.
The sciatic nerve can also be entrapped, compressed or irritated underneath the piriformis muscle. This muscle is located in the buttock region and works to externally rotate your leg at the hip. In some people, the sciatic nerve runs either below or through the piriformis muscle. If this muscle is injured or becomes hypertonic (increased tone), it can compress the sciatic nerve and cause symptoms down the leg.
So, what if I have sciatica?
Lawrence Park Health Clinic can help! Our north Toronto chiropractor, physiotherapist, athletic therapist and massage therapists will work with you to determine what is causing the pain, help you to get rid of the pain and get you back to the activities you love doing. Book in to see one of our excellent practitioners in Lawrence Park today!
Author: Allie Dennis, BSc. Kin (Hons.)
Toronto Chiropractic Intern | CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer