Sciatica is one of the most commonly discussed conditions that cause back pain. However, the condition is complex because it is caused by a myriad of factors, making it hard to reach a diagnosis.

Before we delve into these factors, let us look at what the condition is so that you understand what we are talking about.

Sciatica Defined

Surprisingly, sciatica is not a single specific condition; it is just a general medical term that is applied to a constellation of signs and symptoms that describe a state that the patient is suffering from.

Generally, sciatica is the damage or pressure involving the sciatic nerve, which represents the largest nerve in the body. This nerve runs from the bottom of your spine right through the hip joint to the knee and ankle. Damage to this nerve can be due to a wide variety of reasons.

Characteristics of Sciatica

  • Continuous pain from the affected area. The pain runs through the buttocks to the leg, at times reaching the foot. It rarely affects both legs.
  • Pain makes it hard for you to stand.
  • Lying down or sitting upright makes the pain worse.
  • Numbness of the legs.

Factors that Lead to Sciatica

Osteomyelitis

This is the infection of the bone or bone marrow. Since it affects the bones, it erodes the bone tissue. In this case, it erodes the bone tissue surrounding the sciatic nerve at some points, which exposes it and leads to pinching.

Tumours Near the Spine

Abnormal growths near the spine can affect the sciatic nerve as it exits the spinal canal or the intervertebral foramen, leading to sciatic nerve pain and eventually sciatica.

Degenerative Disc Disease

This is not a specific disease, but a constellation of conditions that fall under the name. The cause of the condition varies, but is mostly due to aging that affects the spine as we grow older. The degeneration of the discs applies pressure on the sciatic nerve or exposes it, leading to sciatica.

The various factors that put you at risk of degenerative disc disease include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Obesity
  • Muscle imbalance
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Dehydration

Herniated Disc

Also called a bulging or a ruptured disc, the condition can lead to impingement of the nerve root at the point where the sciatic nerve originates. This places a lot of pressure on the nerve root as well as the spine, resulting in Sciatica.

Spinal Stenosis

This refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal or the intervertebral foramen. The narrowing obstructs the pathway of the sciatic nerve, causing pain and blocking signals.

Spondylosis

This is a stress fracture that affects the back of the vertebra. In this case, the front part breaks away from the back part. This break usually happens at the 5th lumbar vertebra, and the result contributes largely to sciatica.

Spondylolisthesis

This condition usually presents with Spondylosis in the younger generation, but might present singly in older generation. This is the result of a forward shift of the vertebrae body. This means a part of the vertebral column is more forwards compared to the rest of the column. The change in the structure of the spine creates sciatic nerve pain, later sciatica.

Trauma & Stress

These two conditions go hand in hand when it comes to sciatica and back pain. The trauma might be localized, which means the spine takes an impact to a specific location, or it might be generalized to various areas of the spine at the same time.

Conclusion

Sciatica is a constellation of conditions that have similar characteristics. The condition needs careful diagnosis and treatment from a qualified physician. Once you understand the symptoms, you can take the time to visit the physician before the situation becomes worse.

References and Further Reading

1. Sciatica: Of all the nerve
2. Sciatica
3. Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica

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