There are many ways one can incur a pinched sciatic nerve, from herniated discs to excessive sitting can produce nerve compression and thus pain and inflammation of the sciatic nerve roots which can lead to severe damage that can be permanent if left untreated. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, it runs the length of the spinal chord through the center of the bones and is easily damaged.
The most common cause of sciatic nerve compression comes from a herniated disc pressing on the sciatic nerve bundle. Herniated discs create either misalignment or roughening and enlargement of spinal discs which create pressure on the sciatic nerve bundle at the base of the spine causing pain to spread throughout the leg and into the foot. Spinal discs are cushioned on top and below but on the sides they are open and thus bending over sideways at an odd angle to pick something up is more likely to cause a herniated disc than falling backwards and landing on your back. The pain of sciatica is initially sharp and can progress to a tingling sensation or numbness in the entire leg.
Piriformis syndrome can also cause sciatica. Piriformis syndrome occurs when the spinal canal narrows naturally, pressing on the spinal chord and creating less space for the sciatic nerve to exit the spinal canal properly. This is often the cause of sciatica, but is often overlooked as the cause of sciatic nerve compression. This is treated through traction and realignment therapy or manual muscle stretching and massage, loosening the muscles lessening inflammation and pain.
Sciatica is also often experienced during late pregnancy as the uterus presses on the sciatic nerve bundle as well as posture changes from carrying the extra weight of the fetus during pregnancy.
Some problems that create similar symptoms to sciatica include muscle ischemia, where there is low blood flow due to injury or repeated actions that cause the muscles to contract more often. This can happen in all muscles but most commonly occur in the hip rotators. Pseudo-sciatica is often caused by unhealthy postural habits such as sitting for prolonged periods of time leading to vertebral and soft tissue problems resulting in symptoms similar to sciatica.
Regardless of the cause of sciatica, treatment is often the same including surgery, pain medications, steroidal therapy, massage therapy and physical therapy. A visit to a chiropractor may produce temporary relief, while a change in physical habits like more exercise or better padded chairs may help in preventing re-injury.