How to Say It: sigh-AT-i-kuh
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve leaves the spine in the low back. There is one on the left and one on the right. The nerve travels deep into the pelvis to the lower buttocks. From there, it passes down the back of each thigh. Then, the nerve divides at the knee into branches that go to the feet.
Sciatica is caused by pressure on the nerve. This can be the result of:
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
Personal health factors, such as:
Job-related factors, such as:
Having other health problems, such as:
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. A person may have:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the back, hips, and legs.
Images may need to be taken. This can be done with:
Your nerves may also need to be tested. This can be done with a nerve conduction study.
The goal of treatment is to reduce sciatic nerve irritation. Once the irritation is removed the nerve should gradualy return to normal. Care steps may include:
People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. It can help ease pressure on the nerve. Choices are:
Some things that may help prevent sciatica are:
North American Spine Society
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Deyo RA, Mirza SK. CLINICAL PRACTICE. Herniated Lumbar Intervertebral Disk. N Engl J Med. 2016 May 5;374(18):1763-1772.
Sciatica. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
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Updated December 2013. Accessed November 15, 2017.
Sciatica. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sciatica. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated: 1/28/2021
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