Sciatica: Causes, treatment, exercises, and symptoms

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.

Often, the term “sciatica” is confused with general back pain. However, sciatica is not just limited to the back. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body. It runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the legs, ending just below the knee.

This nerve controls several muscles in the lower legs and supplies sensation to the skin of the foot and the majority of the lower leg. Sciatica is not a condition, but rather a symptom of another problem involving the sciatic nerve. Some experts estimate that up to 40 percent of people will experience sciatica at least once in their life.

Fast facts on sciatica:

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body.

The most common cause of sciatica is a slipped (herniated) disk.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help some people manage the pain of sciatica.

Sciatica is not a condition; it is a symptom.

Symptoms of sciatica

The main symptom is a shooting pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve; from the lower back, through the buttock, and down the back of either leg.

Other common symptoms of sciatica include:

numbness in the leg along the nerve

tingling sensation (pins and needles) in the feet and toes

This pain can range in severity and may be aggravated by sitting for long periods.

What are the treatments for sciatica?

We will look at treatments for acute and chronic sciatica individually:

Acute sciatica treatments

Painkillers are often used in treatment.

Most cases of acute sciatica respond well to self-care measures, which include:

Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, which are also available to buy online.

Exercises such as walking or light stretching.

Hot or cold compression packs help to reduce pain. They are available to purchase online. It is often helpful to alternate between the two.

Not all painkillers are suitable for everyone; individuals should be sure to review options with their doctor.

Chronic sciatica treatments

Treatment of chronic sciatica usually involves a combination of self-care measures and medical treatment:

physical therapy

cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – helps manage chronic pain by training people to react differently to their pain


Surgery may be an option if symptoms have not responded to other treatments and continue to intensify. Surgical options include:

Lumbar laminectomy – widening of the spinal cord in the lower back to reduce pressure on the nerves.

Discectomy – partial or entire removal of a herniated disk.

Depending on the cause of sciatica, a surgeon will go over the risks and benefits of surgery and be able to suggest a suitable surgical option.

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Exercises and stretches

There are many ways to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve through exercise. This allows patients to:

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