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What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a common diagnosis and occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs down the posterior leg and supplies many of the muscles in the posterior and lateral leg, is being pinched or irritated by some other structure. Although the diagnosis of sciatica is very common, it is also very frequently misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

The sciatic nerve originates in the lower lumbar spine and sacrum. It forms a large nerve that moves down into the buttock, then down the back of the leg and supplies muscles all the way down to the foot. Sciatic nerve entrapment can be very painful due to the fact that it is such a large nerve. Depending on where the nerve is trapped, symptoms may vary. The most common places the sciatic nerve can be trapped include the spine at the nerve root level from disc herniations or stenosis in the spine, under the piriformis muscle in the buttock, or at the ischium (sit bone). However, the nerve can become entrapped in other, less common areas as well.

The reason sciatica is often misdiagnosed is because of the sciatic nerve’s size, length, and how many muscles it innervates. There are also other areas that can have dysfunction and present with similar symptoms to sciatica. Other common injuries that present very similarly to sciatica include hamstring tendinitis, hamstring strains, piriformis pain syndrome, low back pain, and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. It is important to determine the true cause of these symptoms in order to appropriately treat them, rather than assume sciatic nerve entrapment. If it is the sciatic nerve, it is important to determine where the nerve is entrapped in order to appropriately treat and resolve these symptoms. If you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain, avoid stretching the nerve or activities that cause pain, numbness, or tingling. It is also important to see a provider to determine the cause of these symptoms and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

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