Hope for Sciatica

Pain or discomfort that travels along the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. The sciatic nerves run from your lower back, down through each hip and buttock and into the back part of each leg. It usually affects only one side. Sciatica is often painful. It can sometimes cause serious or permanent damage. Most sciatica is caused by inflammation. This may be related to an underlying condition. Most often, it can be diagnosed and treated conservatively.

Sciatica pain may feel dull, aching, or burning. It is usually worse when sitting or standing for long periods of time. Sometimes it starts gradually, worsens at night, and with motion. Sneezing, coughing, laughing, lifting, bending, or having trouble with bowel movements may increase the pain. It also can cause tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in the affected leg.

The pain often comes from pressure or irritation to the sciatic nerve. The pressure or irritation can have several causes. These include:

  • A narrowing of the area in the lower back that the spinal cord passes through (lumbar spinal stenosis)

  • A displaced, or herniated disk in the lower spine

  • Pregnancy

  • Obesity

  • Age related wearing of the disks (a condition called degenerative disk disease)


An exam by your healthcare provider is important to help determine if you have sciatica. He or she may check your reflexes, foot and leg strength, and flexibility. Blood tests, X-rays, or MRI scans also may be done to help determine what's causing the condition.


Apply cold to your lower back for the first day or so. Doing this for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times a day may help relieve the pain. Then, taking turns between heat and cold may be soothing. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if your healthcare provider says it's OK. Your healthcare provider may also recommend prescription medicines, steroid injections, physical therapy, or surgery.

For most people, sciatica usually goes away on its own within 6 weeks of self-care. See your healthcare provider if the pain gets worse and it's hard to do daily activities.

These are reasons to seek emergency help:

  • You have sudden loss of bowel or bladder control; problem with movement; or numbness, tingling, or weakness in your legs or feet.

  • You have numbness or tingling in a saddle pattern (the area of your body that would be touching the saddle if you were riding a horse).