When back pain flares, your life is put on hold. From simple discomfort that disrupts your workflow or ability to enjoy the moment to severe pain that limits your capacity to perform even basic daily tasks, back pain is a tremendous burden that plagues far too many people.
Not all back pain is the same, either. Sometimes, it results from an injury. Others, it is a slow buildup that culminates in chronic pain that persists despite your best efforts. Due to this variety of causes and types of back pain, it is important to identify why back pain is occurring so that it can be treated accordingly.
Sciatic pain is one variety of back pain that is typically easy to diagnose. If you are unsure of what might be causing your lower back pain, were recently diagnosed with sciatica, or are just curious about the nature of this condition, you have come to the right place.
The Cause of Sciatic Pain
A nerve runs from your lower back to just below your knee before branching into multiple other nerves in your lower legs and feet. This nerve, called the sciatic nerve, can cause a variety of symptoms if it is irritated, inflamed, or otherwise negatively affected.
Often, the cause of sciatic irritation is a herniated or slipped disk. Because of this cause, sciatic nerve pain—also called sciatica—can come on suddenly or build over time. The symptoms of this condition are distinct and relatively common, which has led to “sciatica” being used as a catchall term for any pain that radiates from the lower back down the leg.
Signs of Sciatica
The symptoms of sciatica are hard to miss. The pain almost always originates in your lower back before radiating through the buttock and the back of the leg. Often, only one leg will be impacted, making this condition even easier to spot.
The level of pain that accompanies sciatic pain can vary wildly, however. From a subtle ache to excruciating pain and everything in-between, the sensation you experience could be vastly different than what someone else with the same condition feels.
Pain can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness or even muscular weakness. These symptoms can intermingle, with some areas experiencing pain and others feeling tingly, numb, or otherwise.
While rare, sciatic can lead to more severe issues, such as loss of feeling in your leg or even an inability to control your bladder or bowels. If symptoms this severe present themselves, see a doctor immediately.
Who is at Risk?
While sciatica can affect anyone, there are a handful of factors that increase your risk of developing the condition. For example, aging causes changes to the spine, which can lead to bone spurs or herniated disks. Obesity, which creates additional stress on the spine, can contribute to similar spinal changes, ultimately causing sciatica.
Even your lifestyle and occupation can increase your risk of sciatic pain. Sitting for prolonged periods, or living a sedentary lifestyle, can make you more susceptible to sciatica, as can jobs that involve carrying heavy loads or significant, repetitive twisting of your back.
Sometimes, sciatica will develop despite a healthy lifestyle and your best efforts. However, you can minimize your risk of sciatic pain by implementing a regular exercise routine and focusing on proper posture when you sit for prolonged periods.
Both of these activities train your body to maintain proper alignment and mechanics. They also strengthen the muscles responsible for good posture—your abdominals and lower back. Before starting a new regimen of exercise, be sure to consult your doctor.
Back pain is an exceptionally common medical condition among adults, and sciatica accounts for a large percentage of those cases. If you are suffering from back pain, be sure to visit your doctor. They can pinpoint the issue, uncovering the underlying causes, and work with you to develop a personalized strategy to address and relieve the pain you have.