Sciatica is a general term for pain originating from the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is a symptom of a disorder that causes mild to sharp and sometimes excruciating pain. Patients have described sciatic pain as mildly disturbing to burning, aching, deep, and similar to a sudden bolt of lightning. Sciatic nerve pain travels from the buttock, down the back of the thigh, and into the leg. Leg pain is the classic hallmark of sciatica. Low back pain may accompany sciatica, and some patients experience sciatic pain extending into the foot. Another characteristic of sciatica is it usually affects either the lower left or right side of the body.
Sciatic pain can make life miserable. Walking, standing, bending over, driving a car, working at a computer, catching up on household chores, sneezing or coughing, and many other activities of daily living can cause sudden and intense pain. Patients who suffer sciatica, especially of a more acute nature, find the symptoms disrupt many aspects of their life.
One reason the sciatic nerve causes so much pain is because it is the longest nerve in the body! The nerve starts at the back of the pelvis and runs downward through the hip area and buttocks into each leg. Near the knee, the sciatic nerve divides into two nerves—the tibial and peroneal nerves. The tibial nerve runs behind the knee and the peroneal nerve runs along the side of the calf and ankle. Through the tibial and peroneal nerves, the sciatic nerve innervates (‘stimulates’) the action of many muscles in the lower legs and enables feeling in the thighs, legs, and feet.
Besides pain, other symptoms may accompany sciatica. These symptoms include sensations such as tingling, pins and needles, burning, numbness or muscle weakness. Such symptoms may be felt in the buttock, thigh, behind the knee, calf, ankle, and sometimes the foot.