Sciatica is not a condition on itself, but rather it is a symptom caused by spinal conditions in the lumbar spine. Sciatic pain results from the inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve and is usually marked by pain and tenderness along the course of the nerve running across the upper buttocks and the rear of the thighs. Sciatic nerve irritation usually occurs at the L5-S1 level of the spine.
Several nerve roots leave the spinal cord and exit through holes in the sacrum to combine and form the sciatic nerve, which then passes between layers of the buttock muscles into the deep muscles of the back of the thigh and throughout the leg. When these nerves are irritated or compressed, sciatica symptoms occur.
Sciatica Risk Factors
Anything that can exacerbate lower back pain and that increases a patient’s chance of developing a spinal condition that can lead to sciatica should be considered a potential risk factors. The most common sciatica risk factors include:
- Age – People over 40 are more likely to develop sciatica.
- Shoe Support – Wearing unsupportive shoes increases the risk of injury.
- Overweight – Excess weight places additional strain and pressure on the spine that can cause sciatica.
- Lack of Exercise – A sedentary lifestyle can lead to spinal deformities and other conditions.
- Unsupportive mattress – Sleeping on too soft or too hard of a mattress can increase the risk of nerve compression.
- Sports – When there’s a sports injury that leads to compression of the sciatic nerve it can lead to nerve irritation and sciatica pain.
Common Sciatica Causes
Sciatica is the result of nerve root irritation, specifically irritation of the sciatic nerve that runs down the lumbar and lumbosacral spine. When there’s irritation or compression in this nerve, sciatica symptoms such as sharp pain, numbness, and tingling can be experienced. Some of the most common sciatica causes include:
- Age – Degenerative changes in the spine, which can lead to different conditions such as herniated discs, are the most common cause of sciatica.
- Pregnancy – When a woman is pregnant her body shifts its center to accommodate the baby, in many cases this causes nerve compression in the lumbar region, leading to sciatica.
- Lumbar Muscle Spasms – Uncontrollable muscles can irritate and pinch on nearby nerves when inflamed.
- Spinal Tumors – A sizable tumor can compress the sciatic nerve.
- Infections – Any infection that affects the spine.
Conditions that Cause Sciatica
In most cases, sciatica is the response of an underlying spinal condition. Any condition that has the possibility of compressing or irritating the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica. Most of the conditions that cause sciatica affect the lumbar spine, which is the closest to the sciatic nerve. The most common conditions that can cause sciatica include: