The sciatic nerve is a collection of several nerve roots that arise between your spinal bones (vertebrae). These nerve roots join together and form the largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve. This nerve travels down from the low back under the buttock muscles all the way down the legs and feet. Sciatica is a term to describe an irritation or pressure on the nerve, which is commonly caused by a herniated or bulging disc (also referred to as a ruptured disc, pinched nerve, or slipped disc) in the lumbar spine. The pressure or irritation leads to a complex of symptoms that include sharp, radiating pain, burning, and/or numbness and tingling. This is a very debilitating condition that affects thousands of people every year.
Generally, herniated or bulging discs are the cause of the problem. The herniated material of the disc will compress or contact the exiting nerve root producing the symptoms. Sometimes central canal stenosis, lateral canal stenosis, spondylolithesis, or degenerative disc disease can cause this nerve compression as well. The problem is often diagnosed as a “radiculopathy”, meaning that one or more intervertebral discs have herniated or protruded from its normal position in the vertebral column and is putting pressure on the nerve root in the lower back, which forms part of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica occurs most frequently in people between 30 and 50 years of age.