a man suffering from sciatica

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve runs down the spinal cord, across the buttock area and hips and continues down the back of each of your legs. The longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve is often the one that often causes pain and discomfort when it is inflamed or irritated, a set of symptoms known as sciatica.

Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatic nerve pain is actually a symptom of other problems, such as a herniated disk. As we get older, the disks in the spine start to deteriorate, causing more pressure to be applied to the nerves in the spine. Pressure is being placed on your nerve and the result is pain ranging from just slightly uncomfortable to very sharp. Other possible causes include:

  • Accidents or trauma to the spine
  • Tumors or cysts that compress the cord or the nerve roots
  • Spondylolisthesis, which is the slipping of vertebra over each other leading to pinching of the nerve
  • Tightening of the piriformis muscle


Sciatic nerve pain is generally a radiating type of pain that can travel from the lower back, down the buttocks, and even continuing down the thigh and calf to the foot. The pain associated with this irritation can be a jolting pain and is often worse when sitting. Bad posture and heavy lifting may make the problem worse. The pain is usually localized to one side of the body or the other. Numbness, tingling, of muscle weakness are also possible symptoms of sciatica. In very rare cases, nerve damage or loss of movement can occur if left untreated.


There are certain risk factors that come into play with sciatica. Some of them are avoidable, and some are not. The most preventable reason for sciatica is lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising frequently can reduce the risk of developing sciatic nerve pain. Common risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Occupations that include heavy lifting
  • Diabetes

Treatment Options

Mild symptoms of sciatica often will go away on their own. However, there are some treatment options that individuals can provide for themselves in the meantime. Some of these include:

  • Alternating hot and cold packs applied to the site of the pain
  • Over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Stretching
  • Exercise

There are also nontraditional options, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, or hypnosis, that are said to provide relief to some people. In more severe cases of sciatic nerve pain, a doctor may prescribe medication or suggest physical therapy. Other cases may require steroid injections or even surgery.

Whether sciatic nerve pain is an annoying ache or a severely life-altering issue that requires surgery, treatment options are available. In some cases, the best option is to get to the root of the problem: whatever is causing pressure on the nerve. A doctor can advise the best treatment option for each individual case to provide relief.

Last Updated: November 21, 2016