MYTH: All patients with sciatica experience the same symptoms.
FACT: The experience of sciatica varies among patients. Typically, pain runs from the low back down the back of one leg, sometimes into the foot and toes. But some patients also feel tingling, burning, or prickly sensations, usually on one side of the body. The type of pain depends on the location of the nerve compression.
Pain severity and duration also can vary, from irritating and intermittent to severe and debilitating. Although most patients recover from a sciatica episode in a few weeks, pain can worsen over time or persist for much longer, depending on the underlying cause.
MYTH: Sciatica doesn't lead to permanent nerve damage.
FACT: Although rare, permanent nerve damage can occur. Reversible sciatic nerve irritation is the usual cause of sciatica pain. Signs and symptoms of a more serious problem requiring immediate medical attention include bowel or bladder incontinence and increasing weakness or loss of sensation in the leg.
MYTH: Sciatic nerves are confined to the gluteus maximus.
FACT: The largest nerves in the body, sciatic nerves extend from the low back to the toes. The nerves exit the spine between two vertebrae in the lower back, travel behind the hip joint down the buttock and back of each leg and into the foot.
MYTH:Sciatica is caused by leg problems.
FACT: Sciatica is caused by irritation of one or both of the sciatic nerves, usually when a herniated disk puts pressure on a sciatic nerve root. Leg pain may make the patient think that sciatica is caused by leg problems. Other causes of sciatica include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, spinal tumors, trauma, and sciatic nerve tumor or injury.
MYTH: Piriformis syndrome is another name for sciatica.
FACT: Symptoms of piriformis syndrome resemble those of sciatica, but the conditions have different causes and treatments. Piriformis syndrome involves spasms of the piriformis muscle, which may irritate the sciatic nerves and cause sciatica-like pain.
MYTH: Sciatica affects only sedentary people.
FACT: Although sciatica generally affects more sedentary people, active people can develop sciatica, particularly if they engage in activities that involve twisting the back or carrying heavy loads.
MYTH: Sciatica always resolves in a few weeks with conservative treatment.
FACT: In most cases, sciatica resolves in a few weeks with conservative treatment such as exercise, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections. However, for some patients, pain can last much longer, and treatment should be individualized.