What does your sciatic nerve really do?

Female_Nurse_DarkBlueScrubs_IS_000016624867_RF-SEveryone has heard of it – most of us misspell it – but does anyone know what it does? The sciatic nerve . . . or is it sciatica? What’s the difference anyway? Keep reading to discover what this nerve is responsible for, why its name is somewhat misleading, and why you should be glad that you never notice it.

Placement – The sciatic nerve is somewhat of a misnomer because it’s actually a number of nerves that all work together. The origin of the sciatic is the lower back. From there, it splits into two main branches that spread down through the pelvis and through your legs. Behind the knees, the sciatic nerves split again into three smaller branches. These then stretch all the way down into your toes. For this reason, the sciatic nerve is considered the longest nerve in the body. It’s also the largest since its width when going through the pelvis has been compared to the size of a man’s thumb, or roughly an inch in diameter.

Responsibilities – The sciatic is unusual among nerves in that it has two main roles – it helps with both movement and sensory information. Like all functioning nerves, the job of the sciatic communicates information to the brain. It supplies details regarding your muscle movement and sensations. As the primary nerve connecting the lower half of the body to the brain, its job is more critical than most. If something goes wrong and the sciatic nerve, or part of its extended branches, is affected, you’ll begin to notice pain. Typically this pain is called sciatica.

Symptom, not problem – Since it’s a nerve, it’s best to think of the sciatic like an alarm system rather than a building itself. If you feel tingling, pain and/or numbness along any portion of the sciatic nerve, there’s an underlying problem. Sciatica can also be experienced as a burning sensation, muscle weakness, or even cramping. Typically, misplaced pressure leads to sciatica, like a bulging disc in the lower back. Pregnancy and a growing baby can also lead to temporary sciatica, as pressure from the uterus builds up.

While it performs a critical job by keeping the lower half of the body in communication with the brain, the sciatic nerve prefers to lie under the radar. If you begin to notice it and various sciatica symptoms, seek the input of your primary care physician.

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