So doctors and patients alike use this term sciatica. It's a common pain complaint. It's every day that someone will come in saying my sciatica is acting up. But there's a lot of confusion about what this term means. The sciatic nerve is actually an anatomic structure and it's the largest nerve in the body. And it comes from nerves that originate from the spine and then coalesce deep in the lower pelvis and then travel into the buttock and thigh to provide sensation and strength to the muscles of your thigh and leg. While the sciatic nerve can get directly injured by direct trauma or a stretch injury or various metabolic and infectious causes, the most common cause of this syndrome of sciatica is actually nerve irritation in the spine, either related to herniated discs or spinal stenosis. Irritation of the nerves within the spine from a disc herniation is when the central portion of the disc called the nucleus pulposus extrudes out and incites a violent auto-immune reaction to the disc material, as the body attempts to dissolve it. This is a chemical and vascular and mechanical process that can refer pain in the thigh and leg, basically the distribution of where those nerves eventually traveled. It can cause painful sensations like cramping, aching, burning, electrical, or even watery sensations in the leg. So sciatica really is a syndrome from the spine that causes leg pain.
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