Sciatica is a common form of chronic pain that affects the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the large nerve that extends from the low back down the back of each one of your legs. Some of the symptoms of sciatica include numbness and/or tingling in your legs.
The pain occurs when the muscles around the sciatic nerve become inflamed. Quite often, sciatica is referred to as a “pinched nerve.”
In some cases, the pain of sciatica could be due to a ruptured or herniated disc putting pressure on your radicular nerve- the nerve that hooks up to the sciatic nerve.
The length of time the discomfort lasts, and the harshness of it, is different for everyone. Typically, it will affect your lower back and one of your legs. However, the soreness could actually extend to your feet and toes.
Symptoms of Sciatica
As with any other type of chronic pain, sciatica has specific common symptoms. They are as follows:
- Pain in the butt or leg that gets worse when you’re sitting
- Tingling or burning sensation in the leg
- Weakness/numbness/difficulty moving foot or leg
- Constant pain on one side of your butt
- A shooting pain that causes difficulty when standing
Typically, sciatica will affect only one side of your lower body. Quite often, the pain will extend from the lower back, through the back of the affected thigh, and then down through the leg.
Depending on what location of the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain could also extend to the foot and toes.
For some, the pain of sciatica only occurs occasionally and can be an inconvenience. However, for others, sciatica pain can become severe and even debilitating.
No matter how minor the pain is, you should keep in mind that it is possible that it could get worse. If you experience progressive weakness in your lower extremities, numbness in your upper thighs, and loss of bowel or bladder control, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
A narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower- or lumbar- area of the back is known as lumbar spinal stenosis. This occurs when tissue and/or bones begin to grow in the openings between the discs in the spine.
These growths can irritate and squeeze the nerves branching out from the spinal cord. The result is pain, weakness, or numbness- typically in the feet, legs, and butt- known as sciatica.
Lumbar spinal stenosis often happens as a result of the aging process. As we age, the ligaments tend to get thicker. The discs between bones could be pushed back into the spinal canal.
Also, arthritis causes bone spurs to grow, which push on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include:
Weakness, numbness, pain or cramping in the feet, legs, or butt. The symptoms will typically get worse when you’re walking, leaning backward, or standing straight.
When you’re sitting down or leaning forward, the pain will subside a little. Also, you will experience stiffness in your thighs and legs, as well as pain in your lower back. In very severe cases, you could experience a loss of bowel and bladder control.
Your symptoms will most likely vary in intensity- being bearable on some occasions and unbearable on others. Most of the time, people are not severely disabled from this condition. In fact, there are many people affected by lumbar spinal stenosis that never show any symptoms at all.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease isn’t a “disease” at all. It is simply a term that is used to describe the normal changes in the spine as you get older. Your spinal discs are soft and compressible discs, separating the vertebrae making up the spine.
They act as shock absorbers for your spine, allowing you to be able to flex, twist, and bend. This can happen all over the spine but typically happens in the lower back and the neck.
These changes can result in neck or back pain, as well as osteoarthritis, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.
Pressure is put on the spinal cord as well as the nerves, which leads to pain and could possibly affect the functioning of the nerves.
Age-related changes to the spine include:
Fluid loss in discs- reducing the ability of them to act as shock absorbers and makes them less flexible. It also makes them thinner, narrowing the distance between the vertebrae.
Tiny tears/cracks are likely to develop on the outer layer of the discs, causing the nucleus to be pushed out. This leads to bulging discs, or possible causes the disc to break open or disintegrate into fragments.
These are all more likely to occur in those who smoke and do heavy physical labor. Additionally, those who are obese could have symptoms of degenerative disc disease.
The spine becomes less stable as the space between the vertebrae gets smaller, due to there being less padding between.
This causes the body to develop bone spurs, which can put pressure on the spinal nerves or spinal cord, which affect nerve function and cause pain.
This is a condition where one of the bones in your back slides forward over the bone that is below it.
This most often occurs in the lower back and can lead to the spinal nerves or spinal cord being squeezed. This pressure can result in numbness and back pain or weakness in one or both of your legs.
In very rare cases, it can cause you to lose bowel or bladder control- if this happens, seek medical treatment immediately.
In some cases, you may not even realize you have had a vertebra slip out of place because you have no symptoms.
You may experience pain in your lower back or butt and the muscles in your legs could feel weak or tight- which could cause you to limp.
The bones that make up your spine come together at several small joints that keep the bones in line while still allowing you the freedom to move.
When one or more of these joints allow vertebrae to move out of line, spondylolisthesis occurs. Possible causes of this condition are:
- A defective joint that has been present since birth
- An accident/trauma that damaged a joint
- A stress fracture caused by overuse of vertebrae
- Joint damage due to arthritis/infection
This condition typically affects children and teens who are actively involved in sports- especially weightlifting or gymnastics.
These types of physical sports can cause overuse of the spine, to the point of causing the stress fractures. Also, older adults could develop this condition due to wear and tear on the back over time.