WHAT IS SCIATICA?


  • Sciatica is a term used when you experience symptoms of shooting pain, burning or aching in your buttocks or leg, pain can go down one leg or both.

  • The sciatic nerve starts in the spinal cord of your lower back and branches out of the spine to pass through the bottock and down the leg to control your leg movements and allow you to feel sensations in your leg and feet.

  • Sciatica is usually caused by the sciatic nerve being irritated at the nerve root near the spine.

What are some causes of sciatica?

  • Bulging discs in your low back: Between each vertebrae in your spine there is a cartilaginous disc filled with a gel. The disc can bulge or herniate compressing the sciatic nerve roots causing sciatica. Activities such as sitting will increase your sciatica pain in this case.

  • Spinal stenosis: Build up of bone in the spine causing a narrowing of the canal the sciatic nerve travels through causing sciatica. The narrowing can happen centrally around the spinal cord or as the sciatic nerve exits the spine. Activities such as standing too long will increase your sciatica pain in this case.

  • Spondylolisthesis: Slippage of a bony low back vertebrae forward or backward can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve. Activities such as arching backwards will increase your sciatica pain in this case.

  • Lumbar facet syndrome: Bony arthritic changes in the vertebrae joints of your low back can pinch the sciatic nerve roots causing sciatica. Activities such as twisting will increase your sciatica pain in this case.

  • Piriformis syndrome: Tightness/spasm of the piriformis muscle located in your buttocks can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and contribute to pain in the leg. This condition is quite rare, as compared to the other conditions.

How do you treat sciatica?

  • Consult with your MD to assess your symptoms.

  • Consult with your physical therapist to identify what is causing the sciatic nerve to get irritated (see above) and they can provide you with exercises to relieve the compression of the nerve to decrease your pain. You will be provided with home exercises and your PT will manually work on your sciatic nerve to provide relief.

  • Learn what movements or activities may be irritating your sciatic nerve and how to avoid irritating it.

  • Consult with your chiropractor, acupuncturist or massage therapist. There are many ways to treat sciatica, don’t ignore it because you can start getting relief immediately.


Woods RP, Seamon J. Chapter 21. Arthritis & Back Pain. In: Stone C, Humphries RL. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment Emergency Medicine, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011



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