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Sciatica (Leg Pain)

What is Sciatica?


Sciatica is the name given to pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve. Anything that irritates this nerve can cause pain, ranging from mild to severe. Sciatica is usually caused by a compressed nerve in the lower spine.


What is the Sciatic Nerve?


The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It starts in your lower back and splits to run through your hips, buttocks, legs, and feet on both sides. Bone spurs and spinal stenosis (narrowing) can also put pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back. 


What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica results from irritation of the root(s) of your lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine.


Additional common causes of sciatica:

  • Spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one)

  • Pregnancy

  • Muscle spasm in the back or buttocks

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in your lower back)

  • Degenerative disk disease (breakdown of disks, which act as cushions between the vertebrae)

Other things to keep an eye on that make you more likely to have sciatica include:

  • Sleeping on a mattress that is too hard or too soft

  • Smoking

  • Not exercising regularly

  • Wearing high heels

  • Aging (which can cause changes in the spine, like bone spurs or herniated disks)

  • Diabetes

  • Being overweight

  • Your job, in particular if it involves carrying heavy things, driving for long periods of time, twisting your back or even prolonged sitting.  


What Does Sciatica Feel Like? How Do I Know If I Have Sciatica?

Sciatic pain can vary widely. It may feel like a burning sensation, dull ache, or mild tingling. The pain can be described as a shooting electrical pain or a sharp pain in the buttocks and down the leg even while resting. Often times the pain will shoot down the leg into the foot and have accompanied numbness and tingling in the leg and foot. In some cases, the pain is severe enough to make a person unable to move.


The pain most often occurs on one side. Some people have sharp pain in one part of the leg or hip and numbness in other parts. The sensations may also be felt on the back of the calf or on the sole of the foot. The affected leg may feel weak.


It is always important to consult a qualified physician to determine the cause and best course of action for your sciatica. The physician will determine the exact cause of the sciatica and have the tools necessary to treat the underlying cause and not the symptoms.

What are My Options for the Treatment of Sciatica?

Our doctor may prescribe different therapies depending on the cause of sciatica. Your doctor might recommend putting cold packs on your lower back for a couple of days and then switching to hot packs for a few days after that. There are also lots of good stretches for lower-back and sciatic pain relief and that should be enough to allow the pain and inflammation associated with sciatica to self resolve. If pain persists longer than a week or two then your doctor may recommend spinal decompression therapy.

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