What is sciatic nerve pain?

Sciatic nerve pain, commonly referred to as sciatica is pain, or numbness, that is caused by irritation of the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. The associated nerve is formed by the nerve roots which come out of the spinal cord and into the lower back. It then leads down through the buttock and its branches expand down to the back of the leg to both the ankle and foot.

What causes sciatic nerve pain?

One of the most frequent causes of sciatica is a ruptured or bulging disc that is located in the spine that presses against the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. However, sciatic nerve pain can also be a symptom of another condition that affects the spinal area; this includes narrowing of the spinal canal, medically known as spinal stenosis, and bone spurs, which are small, bony growths that form along the joints, caused by arthritis. Other causes consist of root compression that can be caused by some form of injury. In atypical cases, sciatica can be caused by conditions that are not directly related to the spine, including both tumours and pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Symptoms of sciatic nerve pain consist of pain that starts in your back or buttock region and travels down to the leg, or may also move into the foot. Other symptoms include tingling, weakness or a numbing sensation in the leg. As well as this, sitting or standing for long periods of time can make the symptoms worse. Whereas walking, lying down and movements that tend to extend the spine, including sit ups, may alleviate the symptoms.

How to diagnose sciatica?

In order to diagnose sciatica it is necessary to assess the patient’s medical history as well as carrying out a physical examination. On some occasions it might be required for the medical practitioner to X-ray the affected area and perform other diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in order to assist in finding the root cause of the sciatic nerve pain.

How to treat sciatica?

In the majority of cases sciatica will get better in time. Treatment initially focuses on medicines and exercises to ease pain. But you can also help to relieve pain by:

  • Not sitting for long periods of time (unless you find it more comfortable than standing)
  • Take it in turns to lie down and take short walks
  • Take an acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, for example ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Use a heating pad on a low or medium setting for around 15 to 20 minutes each day for every 2 to 3 hours
  • Try a warm shower or a warm bath instead of one session with the heating pad
  • Try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours each day
  • Extra treatment for sciatica depends on the cause of the condition. If symptoms do not improve, your doctor may suggest physiotherapy, steroids, stronger medicines, including muscle relaxants or opiates, or in the more severe cases surgery might be recommended.


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