Many people that experience pain in their back or lower extremities will talk about it coming from the sciatic nerve. This may come from a diagnosis from their doctor, or may just be a guess on their part based on where the pains are located. In spite of this, many people don’t actually know much about the sciatic nerve, other than that it can cause pain!
The sciatic nerve, the largest and longest nerve in the body, starts in the lower part of the back, also known as the lumbosacral spine. The sciatic nerve, along with all its nerve branches, is ¾ inch in diameter and an inch long, and is responsible for the sensory and motor functions in the knee, calf, thigh, ankle, feet and toes. The sciatic nerve has a pathway for nerve braches that go from the lower back right to the toes.
If the sciatic nerve is somehow injured, it may become inflamed and cause symptoms called sciatica. Although many people believe sciatica is a disease, it is actually a bunch of symptoms. When a patient gets sciatica, there can be pain anywhere from the lower back right down to the toes. The pain may be in any one of those places or in all of them. If a person has a condition called a herniated disc, it will press against the sciatic nerve, causing many different symptoms starting with numbness or weakness to severe excruciating pain. People with sciatic nerve pain often have difficulties with even the simplest tasks like walking, sitting or standing.
The sciatic nerve consists of branches that go to different parts of the body. It starts in the lower back and goes into the pelvic area (sacrum). From the sacrum, it travels through a path called the sciatic foramen at which point it branches off into two branches called the articular branch and muscular branch. The articular branch flows through the hip area while the muscular branch operates the muscles that enable the movement we make, the leg flexor muscles. The sciatic nerve is what enables not only our motor functions, but also any feeling we may have in the calf, ankle, knee, thigh, toes or foot.
The sciatic nerve is usually injured by trauma to the thighs or buttocks or fractured pelvis. Sitting or lying for a long period may put pressure on the buttocks may also cause the sciatic nerve to become damaged. At one time, open back surgery was the only cure for an injured sciatic nerve, but there are now different types of treatments such as laser surgery, physical therapy and chiropractic manual manipulation.