ID: 265
Category: Orthopedics
CreatedBy: 1
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createdon: 14 Jul 2017
updatedon: 16 Jun 2023

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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Jul 14, 2017
Updated Jun 16, 2023

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Etymology and Pronunciation

Sciatica (sigh-AT-i-kuh)
sciaticus - Latin for "of or pertaining to the hip"

History of Sciatica

Sciatica is a medical condition that affects the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body, running from the lower back down to the legs.

In ancient times, societies attributed the intense and piercing pain of sciatica to supernatural forces. Early Germans referred to it as "Hexenschuß," meaning witch's shot, while the British believed it was caused by an elf's arrow. These beliefs persisted even into the mid-20th century, particularly among rural communities. Ancient Hebrews linked sciatica to a divine encounter, where Jacob wrestled with God, resulting in a hip injury that caused sciatica. As a result, animals' sciatic nerves were no longer considered kosher, and specific instructions were provided in the Talmud for removing the nerve from slaughtered animals. Rubbing the affected area with fresh brine was suggested as a treatment. Descriptions of sciatica in ancient Indian medical texts were scarce, focusing more on the concept of "marmas," specific areas where various anatomical structures converged. Injuries to the lumbosacral area were associated with lower extremity numbness or paralysis. It's important to note that these ancient sources may not perfectly align with our modern understanding of sciatica. Nonetheless, they highlight the evolving shift from supernatural explanations to scientific reasoning in disease interpretation.

The term "sciatica" was first used in the 14th century, by Giovanni da Milano, to describe pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down to the legs. Today, the term is commonly used to refer to a specific type of back pain that is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.

One major breakthrough in the treatment of sciatica occurred in the early 19th century, when a French surgeon named Jean Joseph Seutin developed a surgical procedure to treat sciatica caused by herniated discs. This procedure involved removing a portion of the herniated disc to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.

In 1853, Sir James Paget published "Lectures on Surgical Pathology" which discusses various spinal conditions, including herniated discs and spinal stenosis, and the associated symptoms, such as sciatica. He observed, in patients with herniated discs, that the pain and numbness tended to be concentrated in specific areas of the leg, corresponding to the location of the affected nerve root. In contrast, in patients with spinal stenosis, he noted that the symptoms tended to be more diffuse and affect both legs. Through his experience as a surgeon, Paget recognized that treating the underlying condition, such as removing a herniated disc or decompressing the spinal canal in cases of stenosis, could alleviate the symptoms of sciatica. He also observed that some cases of sciatica resolved on their own, which suggested that the underlying condition had resolved spontaneously.

In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen invented the X-ray, which was another important development in the history of sciatica. This revolutionary technology allowed physicians to see inside the body and diagnose conditions that were previously invisible. In the case of sciatica, X-rays could be used to identify herniated discs or other abnormalities in the spine that were causing the symptoms.

In the decades that followed, researchers continued to study sciatica and its underlying causes, as well as develop new treatments and management strategies for the condition. Today, there are numerous approaches to treating sciatica, ranging from physical therapy and medications to minimally invasive surgery.

Modern Understanding of Sciatica

Sciatica is a pain, numbness, or tingling that originates in the lower back and radiates down one or both legs. The pain is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body.

The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and runs through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg. Sciatica occurs when there is pressure on the sciatic nerve, usually from a herniated disk in the lower back, spinal stenosis, or a degenerative disc. The pressure on the nerve can cause inflammation, leading to pain and discomfort.

The symptoms of sciatica can vary, but the most common include lower back pain, numbness or tingling in the legs, weakness in the legs, and difficulty moving the legs or feet. The pain can be severe and debilitating, making it difficult to perform everyday activities.

Diagnosis of sciatica is usually made by a healthcare professional based on a medical history and physical examination. Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans may also be ordered to determine the cause of the pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body. The nerve runs from the lower back down through the buttocks and legs, and when it becomes compressed or inflamed, it can cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.

There are several potential causes of sciatica, including:

- Herniated or slipped disc: When one of the discs that cushions the vertebrae in the spine slips out of place, it can press against the sciatic nerve and cause pain. This accounts for 90% of sciatica issues.
- Spinal stenosis: This condition occurs when the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves that branch out from it, including the sciatic nerve.
- Degenerative disc disease: This is a condition in which the discs in the spine lose their cushioning ability over time, which can lead to compression of the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis: This is a condition in which one vertebra slips out of place and puts pressure on the adjacent nerves, including the sciatic nerve.
- Piriformis syndrome: The piriformis muscle runs from the lower spine to the hip and can sometimes compress the sciatic nerve, causing pain.
- Injury or trauma: A fall, car accident, or other trauma can damage the spine and put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Tumors or infections: Rarely, tumors or infections in the spine can cause compression of the sciatic nerve and lead to sciatica.

Treatments for Sciatica

Treatment for sciatica depends on the underlying cause of the condition. For mild cases, conservative measures such as physical therapy, exercise, and over-the-counter pain medications may be effective in managing the pain. In more severe cases, a cortisone injection or surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Prevention of sciatica is focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding activities that put excessive stress on the lower back, such as heavy lifting or sitting for long periods of time. Regular exercise and maintaining good posture can also help prevent sciatica.

Lifestyle Changes

While lifestyle changes alone may not completely eliminate sciatica, they can help manage symptoms and promote overall well-being. Here are some lifestyle changes that may be beneficial:

- Regular exercise: Engaging in low-impact exercises can help strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, reducing the strain on the sciatic nerve. Activities such as walking, swimming, and yoga are often recommended. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to determine the best exercises for your specific condition.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Excess weight can put additional stress on the spine, exacerbating sciatica symptoms. Aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Practicing good posture: Maintaining proper posture throughout the day can help alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve. Avoid sitting or standing for extended periods and use ergonomic chairs and supportive cushions when necessary.
- Using proper lifting techniques: When lifting heavy objects, it's important to use your legs and not your back. Bend at the knees, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting motions.
- Taking breaks and stretching: If you have a job that involves prolonged sitting or standing, take regular breaks to move around and stretch. Gentle stretching exercises can help relieve muscle tension and reduce sciatic pain.
- Avoiding high-impact activities: Activities that involve jarring movements or excessive bending can worsen sciatica symptoms. Minimize or modify activities like running, jumping, or heavy lifting.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking can contribute to inflammation and hinder the body's ability to heal. Quitting smoking can improve circulation and reduce the risk of further complications.
- Using proper ergonomics: Whether at work or home, ensure that your workspace is set up ergonomically. Use adjustable chairs, supportive cushions, and maintain proper alignment of your computer and desk to prevent unnecessary strain on your back.
- Applying heat or cold therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Experiment with both methods to see which one provides you with more relief.
- Managing stress: Chronic stress can exacerbate pain and increase muscle tension. Incorporate stress management techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in hobbies that help you relax.


Weakness in the lower back, buttock, thigh, calf, or foot
Weakness, cramping, or numbness in the legs
Back pain
Muscle Weakness

Confirmation Tests

- Nerve conduction test
- X-rays

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