Did you know the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body? This is the nerve that nurses and doctors are trained to avoid when giving an intramuscular injection to a patient in the buttocks. Injury to the sciatic nerve is called sciatica, or neuropathy of the sciatic nerve. Pressure from a herniated disc is a common cause of sciatica.
There are two sciatic nerves, one running down each leg. They originate in the lumbar region of the spinal cord, or lower back, extending from the hip joint down to the back of the thigh. According to the Mayo Clinic, “sciatica isn’t a disorder in and of itself. Instead, sciatica is a symptom of another problem involving the nerve, such as a herniated disc.”
The sciatic nerve provides control to the muscles in the back of the knee and to the lower leg. It also provides sensation and/or feelings behind the lower thigh, parts of the leg and the sole of the foot. This is why damage to the sciatic nerve may cause difficulty walking, numbness and lack of sensation in the leg.
The pain of sciatica usually occurs on one side. It includes dull or mild to severe pain accompanied with numbness, tingling and weakness in the leg. Most of the tingling will be in the foot and toes. Loss of bladder or bowel control due to sciatica is a serious medical condition and requires immediate medical care.
Risk factors that contribute to sciatica are related to age. According to Mayo Clinic, age-related changes in the spine are a common cause of sciatica. You are likely to have deterioration in the discs in your back by the age of 30. Most people who develop a herniated disc are 30 to 40 years of age. People with a sedentary lifestyle are at a higher risk of developing sciatica than those with a more active lifestyle. Also, uncontrolled blood sugar levels in diabetics can cause nerve damages or neuropathy leading to the development of sciatica.
Exercise plays a major role in protecting your back and abdomen, which are the core muscles for proper posture and good body alignment. If you have a sedentary job, use a proper sitting posture and an ergonomically correct chair and desk. Taking short walks away from your desk to exercise your legs and improve your circulation can also be beneficial.
Treatments include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, injection of steroids and, in some cases, surgery.