What is Sciatic Nerve Pain?

Sciatica refers to the pain that radiates along the path of your sciatic nerve—which is the longest nerve in your body. The sciatic nerve runs along your back, through your buttocks and down your leg. Sciatica typically only affects one side of your body, not both.

Risk Factors

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

Common Causes

Sciatica 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 back of the thigh, part of the lower leg and the sole of the foot.

Common causes of sciatica include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Pelvic injury or fracture
  • Piriformis syndrome: 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
  • Pregnancy
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis or slipped disc
  • Spinal tumors

Symptoms

Sciatica pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation, to severe pain.

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

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

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 be done to view the sciatic nerve and see if it is being compressed.

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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