The term sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain and possibly tingling, numbness or weakness that originates in the lower back and travels through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg.
Sciatica (pronounced sigh-at-ih-kah) is a symptom of an underlying medical condition – it is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself.
Sciatica Nerve Pain
Sciatica is often characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Constant pain in only one side of the buttock or leg (rarely can occur in both legs)
- Pain that is worse when sitting
- Burning or tingling down the leg (vs. a dull ache)
- Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- A constant pain on one side of the rear
- A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or to walk
The Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica
Sciatica symptoms occur when the large sciatic nerve is irritated. The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body and is composed of individual nerve roots that start by branching out from the spine in the lower back and combine to form the “sciatic nerve”.
- The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back at lumbar segment 3 (L3).
- At each level of the lower spine a nerve root exits from the inside of the spine and then comes together to make up the large sciatic nerve.
- The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, down the back of each leg
- Portions of the sciatic nerve then branch out in each leg to innervate certain parts of the leg - e.g. the buttock, thigh, calf, foot, toes.
The sciatica symptoms (e.g., leg pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, possibly foot pain) are different depending on where the nerve is pinched. For example, a lumbar segment 5 (L5) nerve impingement can cause weakness in extension of the big toe and potentially in the ankle (foot drop) (See diagram of the sciatic nerve).