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Sciatica Overview

Sciatica (pronounced sigh-AT-ih-ka) is low back pain combined with a pain through the buttock and down one leg. The leg pain usually goes past the knee and may go farther to the foot. Weakness in the leg muscles can be a sign of sciatica.

  • The sciatic nerves are the largest nerves in the body and are about the size of the little finger. They come out of the spinal column low in the back and then go behind the hip joint, down the buttock, and down the back of the leg to the foot.
  • Sciatica is different from other forms of low back pain because while the pain most often begins in the back, it usually travels down one lower extremity.
  • The pain is usually a shooting pain, like electricity. It can also burn like fire or tingle much like the feeling when one's leg "goes to sleep." The pain can range from slightly annoying to totally unbearable. Some people have pain in one part of the leg and numbness in another part of the same leg.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/24/2015
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The Problem Isn't Always Where It Hurts...Sciatica

Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

In evaluating patients in the office, we doctors must always keep a very open mind. For example, when a patient says that their problem is located in a certain area, they may use laymen's terminology that is technically inaccurate, they may have forgotten certain characteristics of the condition because of lack of sleepor pain, or the problem may feel like it comes from a certain location yet it may actually be coming from an area of the body far from where it is perceived. This last situation is commonly the case when a person has sciatica.

Sciatica is pain resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica pain is typically felt from the low backto behind the thigh and radiating down below the knee. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and begins from nerve roots in the lumbar spinal cord in the low back and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down the lower limb.

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