Sciatica is a relatively common condition that develops when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or “pinched” where it exits the spine. The sciatic nerve is a very long nerve with two primary branches that travel down each leg. When the nerve becomes pinched or irritated, pain, numbness, and tingling or burning sensations can occur in the lower back and anywhere along the nerve pathway, including the buttocks and legs. Often, patients experience shooting electricity-like pain extending from the back down the leg. Most commonly, sciatica occurs as a result of a bulging or herniated disc, but the condition also can be caused by other conditions like bone spurs, arthritis and spine diseases. Sciatica can affect one or both legs, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Often, symptoms can be debilitating enough to interfere with everyday activities and with sleep.
Sciatica is more common among people who:
Sciatica often can be treated without surgery using oral medication to relieve pain, combined with injections near the nerve impingement to reduce both pain and swelling that can compress and irritate the nerve. Physical therapy and rest can also play an important role in treatment, and lifestyle changes like improved ergonomics at work or losing excess weight also may help. When these conservative treatments fail to provide lasting relief of symptoms or when sciatica recurs on a regular basis, surgery may be needed to relieve nerve compression. The type of surgery and the technique used will depend on the issue that's causing compression and on other factors, including the patient's overall health.
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