Pinched Sciatic Nerve

Sciatica is a condition that involves some combination of lower back pain and radicular pain. Radicular pain, or radiculopathy, is pain that is felt in another area of the body, away from the original site of injury. In the case of sciatica, a person may feel pain along the path that the sciatic nerve takes, away from the part of the nerve that has become injured. In many cases, patients experience sciatic pain near where the branches of this nerve exit the spine. Due to degenerative changes of the soft tissues in and around the spine, the sciatic nerve may become pinched to the point that your ability to feel or control your leg is diminished. Your sciatic nerve begins in the lumbar and sacral spine, and travels all the way into your foot. Symptoms of a pinched sciatic nerve include hip pain, leg pain, muscular weakness, loss of sensation, tingling, and loss of reflexes. Doctors should take these symptoms seriously because of the physical distress it causes their patients and the permanent nerve damage that may occur due to long-term compression of the nerve.

Let's take a deeper look at what the sciatic nerve is and what it does.

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and stretches from the openings in the lower lumbar spine and the openings in the sacrum. This nerve passes through the deep layers of the buttock muscles, to the back of the thigh, and down the thigh. Just above the knee, the nerve divides into two large branches. The shorter branch turns towards the outer leg and terminates just below the kneecap (patella). The longer branch continues down the back of the leg to the heel (calcaneous) area. Due to changes in the structures around it, the sciatic nerve may be irritated or pinched, resulting in the pain and related symptoms patients experience. Compression or irritation of the nerve may cause numbness, weakness, achiness, and burning, anywhere along the pathway. These symptoms describe a pinched sciatic nerve, or sciatica.

Back pain is a symptom of inflammation or a structural problem. So is sciatica. Sciatica is a frequent companion to low back pain. There are a number of possible causes of sciatica.

Symptoms: When the sciatic nerve is pressed into or irritated, pain may be felt at the point of injury or down its pathway. The pain may be intermittent or constant, progressive or sudden. It is described by pain radiating down the back of the thigh that has been characterized as burning, electrical, stabbing, and sharp.

Both sciatic nerves may be affected to cause pain and these related neurologic symptoms. The pain may be distributed uniformly along the pathway, but is usually more intense in specific areas. In many cases, the pain of sciatica is accompanied by sensations of achiness, weakness, tingling, and numbness.

Causes: There are several conditions that may cause the sciatic nerve to be irritated. The most common diseases and conditions that cause a pinched sciatic nerve include emotional stress a ruptured disc, herniated disc, spinal stenosis, lumbosacral muscle strain, herniated lumbar disc, and inflamed piriformis muscle.

Less common causes include weak abdominal and back muscles, sacroiliac tear, ankylosing spondylitis, endometrial cysts, and arthritis.

Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis connects from the sacrum and pelvis, and inserts into the greater trochanter of the femur. This muscle is responsible for rotating the hip inward when we are sitting and rotating the hip outward when we are standing. The piriformis is also important for balancing the body when we are walking. With hip flexion, the muscle abducts the femur. With hip extension, the piriformis laterally rotates the femur.

These muscles may become inflamed from injury or overwork. As the inflamed muscle swells, it may push into the sciatic nerve, resulting in the symptoms that patient's experience.

Sciatica may not always be associated with heavy lifting or excessive workouts. Prime candidates for this condition include people who sit or stand for long periods of time, continuously at their jobs. Continuous periods of sitting in office chairs and the seats of delivery trucks may irritate the piriformis muscle. Jobs and activities that involve long periods of working and playing while standing, such as retail workers and golfing may also affect this muscle group.