Sciatica is the symptom of shooting pains down your leg, caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve. It is not a true diagnosis, but more of a symptom describing the shooting pains. What's causing these Sciatic type symptoms is the real question though. Often times, your primary care physician will call any type of shooting pain down your leg sciatica. But there are many possibilities of WHY these shooting pains are occurring.
The sciatic nerve is a collection of nerves originating from the lumbar spine and sacrum. The plexus of nerves joins together to form the sciatic nerve which runs its course down the back of your thigh, eventually splitting into two branches: the peroneal nerve and the tibial nerve. Therefore the symptoms of sciatica typically will involve two main structures: either problems with the lower back causing radicular pain (which can cause shooting pains down the thigh) or piriformis syndrome.
Lumbar radiculopathy is most often caused by a bulge or herniation of the intervertebral disc, in which the liquid part of the disc, the nucleus pulposis, breaks through the annular fibers (the cover) of disc. When this happens the disc material enters the spinal column where is can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. This can cause numbing, tingling, and shooting pains down the back of the thigh and even extend into the foot. This is often misdiagnosed as 'sciatica' because of the shooting pains down the leg.
The other diagnosis that is commonly referred to as 'sciatica' is piriformis syndrome. Remember the sciatic nerve arises from the lumbosacral plexus, joins together to make the sciatic nerve, and then runs down the back of your thigh. The sciatic nerve towards its origin, will actually pass underneath your piriformis muscle (located in the butt area), and in some people the nerve actually passes through it! Therefore, piriformis syndrome will put pressure on the sciatic nerve, irritate it, and result in the shooting pains down the thigh.
Whenever you have these shooting pains down your thigh, it is important to get it checked out and corrected as soon as possible. Our office has successfully managed and helped many people with sciatic type symptoms. If you have any questions regarding this type of pain, please contact our office immediately