What Is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve begins from nerve roots in the spinal cord in the low back and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down the lower limb. Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve.


Sciatica pain often branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg, radiating down below the knee and typically only affects one side of your body. Discomfort can be felt almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it is especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf.

The pain can range from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or even excruciating pain. Some patients describe it as feeling like a jolt or electric shock. It can be worse when you sneeze or cough. Prolonged sitting can also aggravate these symptoms.

Numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot can also indicate a problem in the sciatic nerve. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part.


Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched. This can be caused by a herniated disk or by a . the nerve can be compressed by a tumor or damaged by a disease such as diabetes.

While sciatica is most commonly a result of a herniated lumbar disc directly pressing on the nerve or bone spur on the vertebrae, any cause of irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve can produce the symptoms of sciatica. More rarely, other causes of sciatica include irritation of the nerve from adjacent bone, tumors, muscle, internal bleeding, infections in or around the lumbar spine, injury, and other causes.


While total prevention is not always possible, these tips can go a long way toward protecting your back:

* Exercise regularly to keep your back strong. Pay special attention to your core muscles, including the muscles in your lower back and abdomen that play a significant role in maintaining proper posture and alignment. Ask your doctor to recommend specific activities.

* Maintain proper posture when you sit. Whenever possible, choose a chair with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve and keep your knees and hips level.

* Be conscious of your posture and other body mechanics. If you stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. Move straight up and down. Keep your back straight and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Avoid lifting and twisting at the same time. Lift with your legs, not your back.

When To See A Doctor

Mild sciatica usually goes away over time. Call your doctor if self-care measures fail to ease your symptoms or if your pain lasts longer than a week, is severe or becomes progressively worse. Get immediate medical care if:

  • You have trouble controlling your bowels or bladder
  • You have sudden, severe pain in your low back or leg and numbness or muscle weakness in your leg
  • The pain follows a violent injury, such as a traffic accident

Treatments for sciatica depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the pain. Most patients with sciatica from disc herniation successfully manage their pain with various conservative measures, including antiinflammatory and muscle-relaxant medications, exercises, physical therapy and time. However, some of affected patients require surgical procedures to relieve the pain. To learn more about treatment options or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call us at 800.698.1280.

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