Sciatica: Its Causes and Treatments

Its Causes and Treatments

What is Sciatica?

The term “sciatica” is frequently mistaken for “back pain.” Sciatica, on the other hand, is not merely a back problem. Sciatica is a term used to describe pain that extends down the leg from your lower back into your hips and buttocks. Sciatica usually only affects one side of the body.


Sciatica is frequently felt along the path of the large sciatic nerve. Sciatica is typically described by several of the following symptoms:

  • Lower back pain
  • Buttock or leg pain that is exacerbated when sitting
  • Burning or tingling sensation down the leg
  • Leg or foot weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving
  • Persistent pain on one side of the buttock
  • Stabbing pain that makes it difficult to stand
Any irritation of this nerve can cause pain, which can range from mild to severe. While sciatica can cause severe pain, the majority of patients recover within a few weeks with non-operative therapy. Individuals who have severe sciatica and significant leg weakness, as well as changes in their bowel or bladder function, may be surgical candidates.


This condition is commonly caused by sciatic nerve irritation and/or compression, typically by a herniated disk in the spine or a bone spur on one of the vertebrae. Rarely, a tumor can compress the nerve or it can be damaged by a disease such as diabetes.

Additional common medical conditions can result to sciatica:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the lumbar spinal canal)
  • Lumbar Degenerative disk disease (wearing down of disks, which serve as cushions between the vertebrae)
  • Spondylolisthesis (a condition where one vertebra slides forward over another)
  • Pregnancy
  • Muscle spasms in the back or buttocks
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

Several factors that may increase your risk of developing sciatica include the following:

  • Aging (can lead to bone spurs or herniated disks in the spine)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Sleeping on a mattress that is too hard or too soft
  • Smoking
  • A job that requires twisting your back, carrying heavy loads, or driving a motor vehicle for extended periods of time may contribute to sciatica.


Most people with symptoms of sciatica try other home remedies to relieve pain and discomfort.

  • Applying cold or hot packs
  • Stretching exercises
  • Taking non-prescription pain relievers

However, if your pain does not improve, additional treatment options include the following:

Prescription medications: Muscle relaxants may be prescribed by your healthcare provider to alleviate the pain associated with muscle spasms. Additional medications with analgesic effects may be tried. Prescription pain medications may be used early in your treatment plan, depending on your level of pain.

Physical Therapy: Physical therapy’s goal is to find exercise treatments that relieve sciatica by minimizing nerve pressure. Physical therapy is an important part of almost any sciatica therapeutic approach since it combines strengthening, flexibility, and aerobic conditioning. A physical therapy program may also include therapeutic exercises.

Spinal injections: A steroid injection, such as a cortisone shot, may be suggested by your doctor. Healthcare providers will administer a shot that contains medicine that can help lower your discomfort by reducing inflammation surrounding the nerve. The effects normally last a few months, but they eventually fade away.

Alternative therapies: Spinal manipulation by a competent chiropractor, yoga, or acupuncture are all options for relieving sciatic discomfort. Massage may help with muscle spasms, which are common with sciatica. Biofeedback is a technique that can be used to manage pain and stress.

If your symptoms haven’t responded to conventional therapies and are getting worse, surgery may be a possibility. Surgical alternatives include:

  • Lumbar laminectomy – lower back’s spinal cord is widened to relieve pressure on the nerves.
  • Discectomy – partial or complete removal of a herniated disk.
  • A surgeon will discuss the risks and benefits of surgery, depending on the cause of the sciatica, and will be able to recommend a viable surgical treatment.

Sciatica is typically resolved after four to six weeks of nonsurgical treatment. Treatment time for chronic sciatica with pain lasting longer than 8 weeks may be longer and may vary depending on the underlying cause.

The majority of sciatica cases do not require surgery. Usually, only time and self-care are required. If simple self-care measures do not alleviate your pain, consult a healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can determine the source of your pain, recommend alternative treatment options, and/or refer you to other spine health specialists as necessary.


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