The diagnosis of ‘sciatica’ means that there is inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve supplies information about movements to the leg, and sends information about sensations back to the brain. The sciatic nerve is quite large, in fact, it is the largest peripheral nerve in the body.
How does this nerve normally function?
The sciatic nerve, like most other nerves, performs two basic functions: first, it sends signals to your muscles from the brain; and second, it collects sensory information from the legs and passes this back to your brain. Conditions such as sciatica that affect the nerve will alter these normal functions. This usually manifests as either weakness of these leg muscles, pain in the legs and thighs, or both.
What happens to cause sciatica?
The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated spinal disc. When this happens, the normal cushion between the vertebra of your spine ruptures. This causes the disc to push out into areas normally occupied by these nerves. The nerves are compressed and people then experience the symptoms of pain, weakness, and numbness. Other conditions, such as spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or piriformis syndrome can also cause cause sciatica symptoms by irritating the nerve.
What are the signs and symptoms of sciatica?
As stated above, sciatica can cause both sensory and muscular abnormalities in the legs and thighs. Common symptoms of sciatica include:
•A cramping sensation of the thigh
•Shooting pains from the buttock, down the leg
•Tingling, or pins-and-needles sensations in the legs and thighs
•A burning sensation in the thigh
In addition, patients with sciatica may notice a worsening of their symptoms with maneuvers such as squatting or coughing. These maneuvers can increase pressure around the nerve and magnify the symptoms of sciatica.