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The Ultimate Back Pain Relief Tips Blog

Sciatica Part 4: What Is Sciatica?

Posted by Dr. Jeff Winternheimer D.C. on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 @ 03:57 PM

sciatica_sct4This is Part 4 of an ongoing series about Sciatica. For Part Three, Click Here!

When I first started my series on Sciatica, "Part 1: What Causes Sciatica? The Five Most Common Causes" I was assuming that everyone knew what Sciatica is. However, I started receiving many emails from people asking, "What's Sciatica?" So, I decided to write this blog post to help better explain it for everyone.

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So, what IS Sciatica?

First and foremost, it is important to define the term "Sciatica." Many people think Sciatica is the cause of their pain, but in actuality it is a symptom. There are multiple causes of Sciatica occurring. Click on the link earlier in this post for the five most common causes.

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The term Sciatica comes from the Sciatic Nerve, which runs from your lower spine all the way down your legs and to your feet. It is the largest nerve in the human body, and Sciatica occurs when this nerve is pinched. It's actually about as thick as your thumb! That explains why when it is pinched it can cause SEVERE pain.

  • sciatica_image_2-resized-600-1The Sciatic Nerve is so large because it is a combination of 5 different nerve roots

The Spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, and each of those vertebra is separated by a disc. Also, between each vertebra, nerve roots exit off of the spinal cord and travel through the vertebrae and then throughout the body. These nerves are the communication pathways of the body. The nerves in the neck and upper spine travel into the arms and the nerves in the lower spine go into the legs.

o understand what these 5 nerve roots are and what they do, a brief description of the spine is necessary. Let's start at the top: the Brain. The brain is the information processing center, it sits on top of the spine, and is protected by the skull. At the very bottom of the brain is the Brainstem, which is what connects the brain to the spinal cord as it enters the spine.

  • The five nerve roots that exit at the lowest part of the spine are: L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3
  • These five nerve roots join together after they exit the spine and form the Sciatic Nerve
  • When any of these five nerve roots get pinched, the result is Sciatica

Sciatica_2Now you are beginning to see how complicated Sciatica can be, since it can occur when any of those five nerve roots is pinched. You can now see that Sciatica is the "what", not the "why". The why comes from the symptoms associated with those five nerve roots, and each nerve root is associated with a different type of symptom.


Since the Sciatic Nerve begins in the lower back and travels all the way down the leg to the big toe, the most common symptom of Sciatica is pain that radiates down the leg.

Remember, this is just Part Four of a Ten Part series. In Part Five we will learn more about the symptoms of Sciatica. My clinical experience is that the more you understand your problem, the more likely you are to eliminate it.


The key to our treatment is solving the underlying cause. If you have Sciatica, and you are suffering, we can help you. Call today to schedule a Free Consultation at 844-265-2268

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