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Understanding Sciatica or Radicular Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Updated: Feb 26

Sciatica, also known as radicular pain, refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, a large nerve which originates from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down each leg. Sciatica typically occurs when there is compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, leading to pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness along the nerve pathway.

What Causes Sciatica Pain

Common causes of sciatica include:

  • Herniated Disc: When the soft inner material of a disc in the spine leaks out and irritates or compresses the adjacent nerve.

  • Spinal Stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the nerves, including the sciatic nerve.

  • Degenerative Disc Disease: Wear and tear on the discs between the vertebrae, which can lead to disc herniation and nerve compression.

  • Spondylolisthesis: A condition where one vertebra slips forward over another, potentially compressing the nerves.

  • Piriformis Syndrome: Compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle in the buttocks.

Sciatica Pain Symptoms

The symptoms of sciatica can vary but often include:

  • Pain: Typically felt on one side of the lower back, buttock, and leg. The pain can range from a mild ache to sharp, burning sensations.

  • Numbness and Tingling: Along the path of the sciatic nerve, which may extend into the foot and toes.

  • Weakness: Muscles served by the affected nerve may become weak, leading to difficulties in moving the leg or foot.

Sciatica Treatments

Treatment for sciatica depends on the underlying cause but may include:

  • Pain Medications: Over-the-counter or prescription medications to manage pain and inflammation.

  • Physiotherapy: Exercises and stretches to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  • Heat or Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can help alleviate symptoms.

  • Epidural Steroid Injections: In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered near the affected nerve root to reduce inflammation.

  • Surgery: In severe cases or when conservative treatments fail, surgery may be considered to address the underlying cause of nerve compression.

It's important for individuals experiencing symptoms of sciatica to consult with a healthcare professional such as your physiotherapist or GP for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

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