There seems to be some confusion over the term “sciatica.” In a purist sense, the term refers to pain, numbness or other symptoms attributable to the sciatic nerve, that big nerve (the biggest in the body actually) that runs from the low back down the back of the leg. More casually, the term sciatica has come to describe any pain down the back of the leg, regardless of whether or not it actually involves the sciatic nerve itself. The distinction is important, however, because getting the treatment right depends on getting the diagnosis right.
Sciatica symptoms can start from several possible sources:
- pinched nerve roots in the lower back,
- a pinched sciatic nerve in the buttock, or
- “trigger point” spasms in the back and/or piriformis muscles.
Any of these conditions can cause pain, numbness or tingling down the back of the leg and even into the foot. And the treatment for each one is different.
If your pain is interfering with your daily functioning, and certainly if you have noticeable weakness in your leg or foot, you should see your health care provider.
Sciatica can often be resolved with conservative treatments such as physical therapy, stretches and oral medications for the symptoms. Any type of invasive procedure, including epidural or trigger point injections, should be considered only after you have consulted a musculoskeletal specialist to determine the true source of the pain or weakness.
You can read more details on the causes of sciatica in my article for Livestrong.com here.