Many people have experienced back, buttock or leg pain and referred to this as sciatica, but what is this actually? 

Sciatica is a commonly used term to describe the sensation of pain, numbness or tingling that radiates from the buttock down the back of the leg. The term originates from the usual source of the pain, the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve formed from multiple nerve roots that leave the lumbar spine and come together to form a larger nerve that travels down the leg. It is responsible for much of the sensation and muscle control of the posterior thigh and lower leg. Any irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve will cause the symptoms described above.

Sciatica typically involves only one leg, and may or may not be associated with back pain as well. The symptoms are often dependent on one’s position such as sitting (most usual) or standing and may present acutely after an injury or have a slow and gradual onset.

The most common cause of sciatica is compression of one of the lumbar nerves as it exits the spine, before it joins the sciatic nerve. This can be due to a herniated disc that presses on or irritates the nerve, or due to a lack of space for the nerve to exit, a condition referred to as spinal stenosis. Due to the fact that the spinal

A nerve travels down the leg as part of the sciatic nerve, a person will often feel symptoms as far as the foot, depending on which spinal nerve is involved. Although the nerve is compressed in the lumbar spine, back pain may not accompany the sciatica.

Sciatica can also be caused by direct compression of the sciatic nerve as it courses through the buttock and posterior thigh. This can be due to scar tissue, tightness of one of the deep muscles of the hip that the nerve runs through or a mass or tumor. Other conditions can also mimic the symptoms of sciatica such as sacroiliac dysfunction or muscle strains of the hip and buttock.

Sciatic pain often improves on its own with rest, gentle stretching and the use of anti-inflammatories. Should it fail to improve, imaging studies such as an MRI are quite helpful in diagnosing the source of the problem. Treatment for lumbar disc herniations, the most common cause of sciatica, may involve physical therapy, focal injections to relieve pressure and inflammation of the nerve or possibly surgery.