Dr.  Bridget Gibson: Of all your nerves!  Sciatica - what it is, how to treat it |  Free

The sciatic nerve has many nerves. It is in fact the largest and longest nerve in the body.

The sciatic nerve controls the muscles in the back of your thighs and lower legs and gives those areas a feel as well. Sciatica is irritation to the sciatic nerve and a term used to describe a range of symptoms caused by an underlying medical condition. These symptoms often include pain, weakness, numbness, and / or tingling.

Sciatic nerve-related pain may be a burning sensation or a sharp pain. It starts in your lower back and extends down your leg to your calf or foot. The extent of the pain is broad and ranges from mild pain to stabbing, burning or excruciating pain. Sitting for long periods of time can worsen symptoms, which can also worsen if you cough or sneeze.

What are the causes of sciatica?

In about 90 percent of cases, sciatica is caused by a herniated disc, also called a herniated disc. The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae, and in between there are soft, pillow-like discs that act as cushions.

The discs also hold the vertebrae in place and allow your spine to move so you can bend and straighten. Over time, the intervertebral discs can weaken or tear, pushing the jelly-like center out of the disc and irritating the surrounding nerves. This is known as a herniated disc.

What causes a herniated disc?

A single excessive strain or injury can cause a herniated disc. However, age can also be a factor because as you age, the intervertebral discs naturally degenerate and the ligaments that hold them in place weaken.

As this degeneration progresses, rotational movement or relatively low stress can cause a disc to break.

Other causes of sciatica

Sciatica can also be caused by spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the nerve, or an injury such as a pelvic fracture. In other cases of sciatica, no cause can be found.

Sciatica Risk Factors

Age: Age-related changes in the spine, such as herniated discs and bone spurs, are the most common causes of sciatica.

– Obesity: Excessive body weight, which puts stress on the spine, can contribute to the changes in the spine that cause sciatica.

– Prolonged sitting: People who sit for long periods of time or lead an inactive lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica than active people.

When to see a doctor

Mild sciatica usually goes away over time with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.

Call your doctor if self-treatment doesn’t relieve your symptoms, or if your pain lasts for more than a week, is severe, or gets worse.

Get medical attention immediately if:

– You have sudden, severe pain in your lower back or leg and numbness or weak muscles in your leg

—The pain follows a severe injury, such as a traffic accident

– You have a loss of bowel or bladder function

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and do an exam. He or she may order x-rays or other images such as a CT scan or MRI to see if you have a herniated disc. There are also nerve tests your doctor can order to determine which nerves are involved.

Dr. Bridget Gibson is the general practitioner for Brookwood Baptist Health.