Sciatica, also known as lumbo-sacral radicular syndrome, refers to any sort of pain that radiates out from your lower back, travels through the hips and buttock, and extends down the large sciatic nerve in the back of your legs. It is often characterized by severe pain and disability; in about 90% of cases, the pain occurs when a herniated disk compresses or irritates any of the nerve roots. But it can also occur because of lumbar stenosis, injury, infection, and (less often) tumors or a growth in the spine. Typically, sciatica is confined to only one side of the body.
There are no accurate data on the incidence and prevalence of sciatica. Studies suggest that an estimated 5%-10% of people with low back pain suffer sciatica; the annual prevalence ranges between 14% and 2%. In addition, according to Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, roughly 40% of the people experience it at some point in their lives.
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Symptoms and Risk Factors
Common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Numbness, weakness, and difficulty moving or controlling the leg
- Tingling or burning sensation down the leg
- Hot pain in the buttock
- Increased pain while coughing, sneezing, lifting, or laughing
- Pins and needles feeling
- Persistent pain on one side
These symptoms are usually caused by inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve or one or more of its five nerve roots. Sciatica symptoms can range from a mild ache to a sharp, painful sensation and may last just a few days or for months. They also vary from person to person. Some people may experience severe and debilitating symptoms while others may have infrequent and irritating symptoms. However, the pain can get worse in both the cases.
Risk factors for sciatica
A number of individual and occupational risk factors are associated with sciatica. A study published in the the medical journal Spine reported that age, mental stress, chain smoking, and work-related trunk twisting were found to increase the risk of acute (short-term) sciatic pain. The study also reported greater age (peak 45-64 years), mental stress, former cigarette smoking, strenuous physical activity, and poor job satisfaction as contributing risk factors for chronic (long-term) sciatic pain.
The family of herpes viruses is now known to be linked to non discogenic sciatica and some other forms of back pain. Zoster sin heperte (the shingles virus but with no obvious rash) can often present as sciatica and sciatica can also be a prodromal symptom of shingles (see Shingles treatment strategy). Herpes simplex, the virus associated with genital herpes can have unusual presentations too and cause lower back pain and sciatica rather than genital lesions. (see Herpes simplex treatment strategy)
Sciatica can be a problem in the later stages of pregnancy due to the weight of the baby compressing the sciatic nerve. The problem usually resolves itself after the baby is born.
There are many different treatments and therapies that can be used to deal with sciatica. Some therapies focus on relieving pain and others deal with the central cause of the sciatica. Click on the links at the top of the page to find out more about both conventional and complementary alternative therapies.