You walk into your doctor’s appointment, and spill all your symptoms: lower back pain, pain in your buttocks, tingling, numbness and sometimes even shooting pain down one of your legs. You may not know what to make of all these things you’ve been experiencing , but you are hoping your doctor does. So when your doctor comes back with the following diagnosis–sciatica–you are faced with more to think about. But before you get all worried and worked up, you want to deal with the basics: what does the “sciatica” label really mean? Is sciatica a medical condition? A disease? Or something else?
The answer: sciatica is something else entirely.
Is Sciatica a Medical Condition? Disease? Or What?
In order to answer this loaded question, we need to look at what causes and what does not cause sciatica. Bear with me now.
The Causes of Sciatica
To understand what sciatica is, we must get to the (sciatic nerve) root of the problem: what causes sciatica? Sciatica is usually caused by:
- pressure on, or
- irritation to
your sciatic nerve: that long-ass nerve in your body (the longest, to be exact) that runs through your lower back, buttocks and legs from nerve roots off your spinal cord. When pressure is applied to the nerve endings around your spinal cord, all those sciatica symptoms will come at you full force.
The (Not So Much) Causes of Sciatica
Now that we got the causes of sciatic squared away, let’s take a gander at a very uncommon cause of sciatica:
- damage to the sciatic nerve
Sciatica: A Series of Symptoms
Why are the causes and (not so much) causes of sciatica clues to uncovering what sciatica really is? Because sciatic pain is typically triggered by something else going on in your body that causes pressure on or irritation to the sciatic nerve and rarely damage to the sciatic nerve itself, sciatica is not a disorder or medical condition in and of itself.
Sciatica, instead, is a series of symptoms caused by another medical condition. Any sciatic pain you experience is most likely alerting you to an underlying medical condition–from those associated with the spinal cord to pregnancy. It is for this reason that treating sciatic pain directly is not as effective as finding what medical problem is causing your sciatic symptoms and dealing with that first. Symptoms of a medical condition tend to subside or disappear completely when you begin treating the medical condition.
So, when your doctor tells you that you have sciatica, you will want to dig deeper. Just because your doctor says “sciatica’ does not mean he has pinpointed what is wrong with you; your cluster of symptoms just happen to have a medical name. Dig away, and find out the medical condition causing your sciatic pain so you do not have to suffer any longer!