Understanding Sciatica
and Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatica refers to the discomfort that radiates along the longest nerve path in the body. Sciatic nerve pain runs along the back, through the buttocks, and down the leg. Sciatica typically only affects one side of the body, not both.

Causes & Risk Factors

The most common causes of sciatica include (but is not limited to):

  • Pregnancy
  • Pelvic injury or fracture
  • Spinal stenosis or tumors
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis or slipped disc
  • Piriformis syndrome (a disorder that occurs when the piriformis muscle – which starts at the lower spine and connects to each thighbone – becomes tight or goes into spasm, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve)

Sciatic nerve pain occurs when there is pressure or damage to the sciatic nerve, which controls the muscles at the back of the knee and lower leg and provides sensation to the thigh’s back, part of the lower leg the sole. Common risk factors for sciatica include (but is not limited to):

  • Age-related changes in the spine.
  • Diabetes, which increases the risk of nerve damage.
  • Prolonged sitting accompanies a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Occupations requiring carrying heavy loads, twisting the back, or driving a motor vehicle.

Symptoms

Sciatic nerve pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation, to severe pain. Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Pain that is worse when sitting.
  • Pain on one side of the buttock or leg.
  • Burning or tingling down the leg and/or in your foot.
  • A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or walk.
  • Numbness or muscle weakness along the nerve pathway in your leg or foot.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing sciatica begins with a physical exam that looks for abnormal or weak reflexes; pain when lifting the leg straight up; difficulty bending the foot inward or down; weak knee bending; or weak foot movement. If pain is severe or long-lasting, an MRI or other imaging test can view the sciatic nerve and see if it is being compressed.

Pain Management & Treatment Options

In many cases, sciatica responds well to self-management techniques, including alternating cold and hot packs, stretching, and over-the-counter pain medications. If these tools do not reduce the pain, we offer treatment options that include:

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