Ever felt that sharp stabbing pain in your lower back? You might ignore it hoping it will work itself out, or lay down in hopes of relief. The next day you have pain and numbness radiating down one leg and have difficulty walking. We call that sciatica.
Here’s how it works:
First, a basic anatomy lesson. In between each of the bones in the spine there are spinal discs which are the weight-bearing, shock absorbers for the spine.
Spinal discs contain a gel-like ball-bearing center, which is surrounded by tough, fibrous cartilage, arranged in concentric, overlapping circles.
As a person ages, the spinal discs naturally lose some of their water content, leading to cracks or fissures in the cartilage. If the stress on the spine is unusual or unexpected, the gel-like material in the center of the disc can push through one of these fissures creating a bulge or herniation and possibly irritate a spinal nerve.
If enough of this material pushes through, the nerve can become inflamed and cause symptoms such as radiating pain, numbness, and possibly weakness. Typically, such pain and/or numbness radiates down the leg and can travel below the knee and possibly into the foot. This condition is called sciatica.
Sciatic symptoms, with or without back pain, are highly suggestive of an inflamed spinal nerve. In fact, one suffering from sciatica will usually say the leg symptoms are much worse than any back pain.