Sciatica Pain – Symptoms, Causes and
Sciatica pain is usually caused by compression or irritation
of one of the spinal nerve roots. The condition can be
effectively managed with non-surgical treatments.
Severe lower back pain that travels down the back of the
thigh and extends down below the
knee is typical of the medical
condition known as sciatica. This
pain occurs due to irritation or
compression of the sciatic nerve
roots. This is one of the longest
nerves in the body, starting from the
back of pelvis through buttocks and all the way down both
legs. The pain due to this condition can range from mild to
Some of the common symptoms of this condition include
• Pain in the buttock or leg
• Weakness, numbness in the leg
• Shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up
• Difficulty moving the leg or foot
• Burning or tingling down the leg
What causes sciatica?
Normally, the condition is caused by irritation of the sciatic
nerve. One of the other main causes of this nerve disorder
is a herniated or slipped disc. Normally,
the intervertebral discs in the spine act as
shock absorbers to protect your spine
and keep it flexible. If the disc weakens
(either due to normal wear and tear or
due to a spine injury), some of the
contents of the disc may seep out and get pressed against
the nerve root. Some of the other causes of this condition
• Spinal tumors
• Piriformis syndrome
• Lumbar spinal stenosis
• Degenerative disc disease
• Sciatic nerve tumor or injury
Who is at Risk?
The condition can occur as a result of the general wear and
tear of aging or any activity that places sudden pressure on
the disks that cushion the vertebrae of the lower spine.
Changes in the spine caused by arthritis also increase the
risk for sciatica in older adults. The condition can affect
people who lead a sedentary lifestyle or those who engage
in jobs involving frequent twisting, bending and heavy
weight lifting. A study on a sample of workers in Finland
which was published in Spine Journal (2002) reported that
walking can cause the onset of sciatica symptoms and that
jogging is associated with a continuation of symptoms.
Pregnant women and people with diabetes are also at risk
of nerve damage.
Diagnosing the condition
The diagnosis of this chronic nerve condition focuses on
identifying the cause and location of the patient’s pain. As
part of the consultation, the physician will evaluate the
complete medical history of the patient. Muscle tests may
be conducted to test your strength and reflexes. Additional
tests like X-rays, MRI for herniated discs, CT scan, and
myelogram would be recommended if the pain lasts longer
than 4 weeks.
Effective Non-surgical Treatment
The good news is that established health care centers offer
effective non-surgical types of treatment for sciatica.
These treatment programs are developed and managed by a
team of specialists comprising pain management
physicians, chiropractors, physical therapists and
neurologists, and would include the following:
• Physical therapy – This is an ideal option for
effectively managing pain related to the condition and
to restore function and mobility. Various therapeutic
exercises are recommended to strengthen and improve
the flexibility of muscles and joints. Treatment
programs would also include ultrasound, massage and
myofascial release, traction and Transcutaneous
Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS).
• Epidural steroid injections – Injections of
corticosteroids (commonly called steroids) can reduce
inflammation. The injection is directly administered in
the epidural space which is inside the outer membrane
covering the spine.
• Exercise – Exercises can help to improve a patient’s
strength, mobility and range of motion. These
generally include gentle strengthening, stretching,
aerobic and isometric exercises.
• Spinal decompression therapy – This FDA-approved
therapy involves the decompression of the discs in the
spine which creates a vacuum within the spinal discs
and removes the extra pressure on the affected nerves
• Massage therapy – Deep pressure application or
gentle manipulation can help to increase blood
circulation and relax tight muscles. It provides relief
from acute pain and reduces inflammation.
• Oral medications - Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or oral steroids reduce
pain and inflammation.
Though sciatica nerve pain is a complicated condition, it
can be managed and resolved and further recurrences
prevented with proper treatment. On the other hand, if this
chronic nerve disorder if left untreated, it could lead to
severe complications like partial immobility of the leg,
altered sensation of the leg, and other functional disabilities
such as limitations in walking, sitting and standing.