If you suffer from sciatic nerve pain and are searching for a mainstream or an alternative pain relief, it is a good idea to understand the possible causes of your pain.
On this page we consider Western classification. On our Sciatica Symptoms page you can find out how ancient Chinese Medicine differentiates it.
What is Sciatica?
The word sciatica itself is a medical term for a pain caused by low back conditions.
Experienced usually on one side of the body, the pain radiates down the back or outside of the leg along the nerve and/or its branches, often all the way to the ankle even toes. When it is consistently felt below the knee the condition is considered ‘genuine’ sciatica.
The root of the sciatic nerve, the longest peripheral nerve of the body, emerges from the spine in the lumbar area, where the nerve roots may become irritated, inflamed, compressed or some other way adversely affected. The cause of sciatic nerve pain could be one of these conditions.
Starting where the sciatic nerve emerges from the spinal canal in the lumbar area, a disk that is suppose to provide cushion between the vertebra, may have lost its shape and is now pressing on the nerve therefore causing sciatica symptoms.
The name Bulging Disk is used when the gel-like center pushes against the disk’s outer wall. And when the center breaks through the bulge, the condition is called a Herniated Disc. In both cases, the gel-like center presses on the root causing pain.
Herniated Disk results in a more severe condition because the disc material that leaks out contains an acidic chemical irritant (hyaluronic acid) that causes nerve inflammation.
Degenerative Disk Disease (DDD) is a result of an ageing process, which affects the healthy shape and function of the discs. This can result in a bulging or herniated disk and therefore in sciatic nerve pain.
Piriform Syndrome. The sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis muscle. From the lower back, this muscle connects to the thighbone and helps you rotate your hip. A muscle spasms in the Piriform can compress and cause pain. Not easily identified by X-ray or MRI, it may be difficult to diagnose and treat.
In Pregnancy the extra weight of the womb can cause pressure on the spine and compress the sciatic nerve. After the childbirth, the symptoms usually subside.
Spinal Stenosis. The nerves travel through the spinal canal and if the canal space in the lower back narrows because of a bone overgrowth, for instance, the pressure can be the reason for the sciatic nerve pain.
Spinal Tumors and Spinal Infections are rare but if this happens, they can compress the nerve causing pain.
In a condition called Spondylolisthesis, a vertebra slips over the one below it. This can pinch the nerve root leading to sciatica.
Trauma in the lower back as a result of an accident can cause a pinched nerve and therefore acute pain that radiates along the side or back of the leg.
It may also be that the body has had earlier injuries such as ski accidents, which I personally experienced when young. The pressure on the nerve root increases year by year finally manifesting in excruciating sciatic nerve pain.
In my case, the disk between the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae became herniated therefore pressing on the nerve root and causing the pain which increased slowly.
For years, the pains I experienced were treated with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Remedies but periodically, particularly when the weather was cold and damp, they returned with vengeance.
Eventually, a successful Micro Disectomy was performed, which set me permanently free from pain. For this, I am truly thankful for our modern medicine.
In addition to the above classification, the chronic back and leg pains can be seen as Rheumatic Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteo Arthritis and Gout.
Job Dissatisfaction, Stress or Emotional Distress are often correlated with both, acute and chronic back and sciatic nerve pain.