Your body is an amazing machine! It’s made up from over 200 bones, more than 600 muscles, dozens of organs, numerous systems, miles of blood vessels, and lots and lots of nerves. Nerves are electrical conduits that transmit impulses which are essentially instructions.
Sensory nerves take information from your body to your brain, and that includes things like temperature, texture, and position. In contrast, motor nerves carry instructions from your brain to your muscles to control movement. Those movements are sometimes voluntary i.e. choosing to reach up and touch your nose, or involuntary e.g. breathing and swallowing.
The longest, and arguably the most well-known, nerve in the human body is the sciatic nerve. It is, however, famous because it is often a cause of pain.
The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, down through your buttocks and legs, to your feet. It is mostly a motor nerve that controls the muscles in your legs, but some branches double up as sensory nerves – especially as it nears the feet.
The sciatic nerve originates in the sacral plexus – a plexus being the medical term for a bundle of nerves. It’s a big plexus, covering the area between your L4 and S3 vertebrae.
From the sacral plexus, the sciatic nerve divides and branches outward down each leg. Each branch passes through your pelvis, and then down the back of your leg, past the back of your knees, down the rear of your shin, and into your heel. In the lower leg, it branches out several more times to serve the muscles in that region.
The sciatic nerve varies in thickness along its length. Near its origin, it can be as thick as a human thumb. However, nearer your feet, it’s no thicker than a standard electrical wire in your home.
Problems with the sciatic nerve
The main problem with the sciatic nerve is it is unprotected, and that means it can be injured. An external blow, i.e. getting hit in the back, could injure it. However, the most common cause of sciatic nerve pain comes from within.
Bulging lumbar disks can place pressure on the sciatic nerve. This causes inflammation and irritation, which can result in pain. The pain may be localized, meaning it is felt at the same spot and the disk bulge. However, in many cases, that disk bulge causes pain to radiate down through the buttocks and legs. This can also be accompanied by muscle weakness.
Sources of sciatic pain include:
- Poor posture
- Too much sitting
- Inactive lifestyle
- Being overweight
- Disk degeneration
- Traumatic injury e.g. a fall or car crash
- Infection in the tissues surrounding the spine
- Unusual bone growth and bone spurs
Of these, the most common cause of sciatic nerve pain is undoubtedly too much sitting and poor posture. With so many people spending the majority of their time sat down, at a desk, on their sofa, or driving, it’s no wonder that back pain in general and sciatica specifically are so very common.
In the majority of cases, sciatic pain can be relieved through corrective exercise, as well as making lifestyle changes such as:
- Sitting less
- Adopting better posture
- Being more active
- Learning to lift properly
- Losing weight
One effective way to get your weight under control is to follow a low carb diet. Check out my article The easy low carb diet to learn more.
Occasionally, chronic sciatica may require medical treatments such as steroidal injections or surgery. This is, however, quite rare.
As with many health and medical conditions, avoidance is better than cure, so it’s a good idea to take steps to prevent sciatica from becoming a burden. Avoid long periods of sitting, maintain good posture, strengthen your core and back muscles, reach and maintain your ideal weight, and learn how to lift safely.
Image Credit to OhBabyFitness
I can tell you from personal experience that sciatic nerve pain can be very debilitating. And while it can be treated, it’s better if you avoid it in the first place. Look after your sciatic nerve, and you’ll enjoy a more pain-free life!
More about Sciatica
For more information on the Sciatica pain, you can check the Sciatica pain relief post.