Sciatic pain of the legs is characterized by the pain that occurs down the leg and is caused by the inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain usually starts in the back and extends down the legs. This is a common condition resulting from acute nerve compression. The reason for nerve compression may be slipped/prolapsed disk, muscle tension (Piriformis syndrome) and some less common reasons such as bony growths, tumors and infections.
Sciatic pain of legs may range from mild to severe and categorized as acute and chronic, as follows:
- Acute sciatic pain is generally associated with soft tissue injury such as sprains of muscles, ligaments, or tendons or disc herniation. Acute pain generally cures within several days to weeks and its severity is directly associated with the extent of tissue injury. Since the source of pain may be the spinal joints, vertebrae, discs or soft tissues, it is generally called as acute mechanical back pain.
- Chronic sciatic pain may persist for more than 3 months. It may be present all the time and may worsen with poor posture, certain activities and improper body mechanics. Other contributing factors may be related to arthritic changes, tissue scarring, nerve cell changes or psychological effects of chronic pain.
There are several causes of sciatic pain of legs. Slipped disc, which is referred as a herniated nucleus pulposus or prolapsed intervertebral disc, is one of the most common causes. Other causes of sciatic pain are:
- Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis)
- Degenerative disc disease such as osteoarthritis that causes breakdown of discs that act as a cushion between the vertebrae
Other possible reasons that may give rise to sciatic pain are overweight, wearing high heels, lack of regular exercise and sleeping on too soft mattress.
Main symptoms of sciatic pain of legs are related to the pain in low back, buttock, thigh, knee and foot. In some cases, pain may be severe and unbearable while in some people, it may be irritating and infrequent, but possibly may worsen. Some common symptoms of sciatic pain are:
- Pain the leg or rear that may worsen when sitting, tingling or burning down the leg.
- People with sciatic pain may experience numbness, weakness in leg or difficulty in moving foot or leg.
- A shooting pain in the leg makes it difficult for the patient to stand up.
The sciatic pain extends from the lower back through the back of the thigh and then down through the leg. The foot or toes are also involved depending on the site where sciatic nerve is affected.
A careful medical examination is needed to determine the type of spin problem and its cause to decide the appropriate treatment option. Diagnosis of sciatic pain of legs features a combination of physical examination, medical history of the patient and certain diagnostic tests such as x-ray, CT and MRI scan, Discogramn and Myelogram.
The treatment options include self-care, physical therapy, exercise, massage, traction, ultra-sound, acupuncture and chiropractic manipulation. You may get benefit from the prescribed medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including naproxen, ibuprofen and aspirin, which can relieve pain and inflammation. Steroids may used to decrease swelling and inflammation of the nerves. Some surgical options for sciatic pain are discectomy and lumbar laminectomy.