Sciatica, pain that starts in the low back area and radiates down the leg, is a set of symptoms that is generally caused by the compression of lumbar nerve roots at L4 or L5 or sacral nerve roots at S1, S2, or S3. The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the body. It consists of five roots that leave the low back, join in the pelvis and travel to the muscles and joints of your thigh, knee, calf, and ends in the foot. The compression maybe the result of general wear and tear of aging, or medical disorders like a herniated disc in the back, spinal stenosis or piriformis syndrome.
Patients with Sciatica often experience leg pain, especially when driving, sitting, bending or sneezing. You may also have weakness, “pins and needles” numbness, or a burning or tingling sensation in the buttock, thigh, leg, or in your foot. Other symptoms include a shooting pain when you stand up, a constant pain on one side of the buttocks and difficulty in moving or controlling the leg. Typically, the symptoms are only felt on one side of the body, but can be bilateral. Sciatica sometimes disappears as if it never existed and later reappears with greater intensity. Exposure to cold weather often exacerbates the pain, as the chill in the weather increases the stiffness in the muscles and the joints. It causes the muscles around the sciatic nerve to tighten and compress the nerve.
There are other risk factors for sciatica. Researches have indicated that frequent heavy lifting, twisting and bending, exposure to vibrating, poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle all increase the risk of developing sciatica.
Although low back pain is a common condition that affects 80-90% of people during their lifetime, it is estimated that the lifetime prevalence of true nerve-related sciatica is about 5% in men and 4% in women. Sciatica is more common between the ages of 30 and 50 years. The condition occurs in men and women about equally, some studies have indicated that sciatica is more severe in women.