Sciatica is a term commonly thrown around to describe leg pain, which can include the buttock(s), thigh(s), or leg(s), and even into the foot. However, Sciatica is not a medical diagnosis, as it only describes symptoms, not the source or cause of why the symptoms exist in the first place. The term sciatica derives from the sciatic nerve, which is a collection of individual nerve roots stemming from the spinal cord. The nerve roots bundle together near the back and buttock to assemble the largest nerve of the leg(the sciatic nerve)which then branches into other nerves of the lower leg once it passes the knee.
Though the term sciatica is used to loosely describe leg pain and symptoms, it prevalence is quite high. However, not all leg pain is irritation of the sciatic nerve! Sciatica is rarely associated with a specific event causing injury, rather it’s described as occurring for no apparent reason. However, certain conditions requiring immediate medical attention can mimic sciatica symptoms. If you’re experiencing sciatica-like symptoms with progressive neurological symptoms e.g weakness, numbness, drop foot, bladder dysfunction, or bowel dysfunction (occurring about the same time)Call the ER now.
Spinal tumors and infections can also mimic sciatica. The vast majority of people who experience sciatica will experience resolution naturally by giving it time — from weeks to months — and staying mobile. More serious cases of sciatica can take months to years. Very few cases of sciatica require surgery. If the symptoms are severe to the point where it’s drastically affecting your daily functions, medical intervention (i.e steroid injections or surgery) may be your best next step. While most cases of sciatica can be treated conservatively with great results, identifying the source of the problem is absolutely imperative. Sciatica-like symptoms typically stem from the spine. If your leg symptoms change with how you use your body, it’s likely from a spinal source and can resolve with the correct movement strategy.