Backache is often called the "Pain of the century" because so many people suffer from it at least once in their lifetime. It can have numerous causes, depending on the morphology, medical history and activities of each individual. Pain in the back can develop following conditions such as osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, sciatica, acute low back pain (sometimes called "lumbago"), etc. Some of these conditions are chronic, meaning that they are present throughout the individual's life. Others are acute, meaning that they occur following an incorrect movement or excessive physical strain. The spinal column (or spine) has to withstand numerous mechanical and physiological stresses.
The vertebrae have a complex structure: network of ligaments, joint apophyses, intervertebral discs. These allow the spine to fulfil its various roles: mobility of the trunk and head, protection of the spinal cord, circulation of information via nerves that lead from the spinal column to the organs and muscles.
Back pain develops:
Sciatica is pain that radiates down the leg along the length of the sciatic nerve (in whole or partially). The sciatic nerve exits the spinal column betweeen lumbar vertebrae L4 and L5 (this is root L5) or between lumbar vertebra L5 and sacral vertebra S1 (this is root S1). The pain is caused by irritation of the nerve root following a herniated disc, an excessively narrow spinal canal or a shift between two vertebrae. If root L5 is irritated, the pain experienced runs from the tip of the buttock down to the big toe, via the lateral surface of the thigh and calf and the top of the foot. If root S1 is irritated, the pain experienced runs from the tip of the buttock down to the little toes, via the posterior surface of the thigh and calf, the heel and the sole of the foot. Sciatica can develop after lifting a heavy load (displacement of vertebrae), wearing high-heeled shoes (incorrect dorsal spine position) or an awkward position while sleeping. Sciatica can also affect people with osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine or pregnant women. Sciatica is also known as sciatic neuritis, sciatic neuralgia or lumbar radiculopathy.
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