Sciatica Symptoms, Causes, and Treatements

Sciatica occurs when pain makes its way along the path of the sciatic nerve. The path of the sciatic nerve starts in your lower back and goes through your hips and buttocks and down to each leg. Almost always, sciatica only affects one side of your body. It causes severe pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling that usually fades in a few weeks with the support of non-invasive treatments.  This condition can develop gradually or occur suddenly.

What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

The most common symptom of sciatica is when pain emits from your lumbar or lower spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg. While you may feel pain and discomfort in any area along the path of the sciatic nerve, it’s very likely to start in your low back and migrate into your buttock and the back of your calf and thigh. 

You may experience a mild ache or a more painful burning sensation that can sometimes feel like an electric shock. Coughing, sneezing, or sitting for long periods of time can worsen the pain. In addition, you may notice numbness or muscle weakness in a leg or foot.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica occurs when there is an overgrowth of bone on your vertebrae or a ruptured disk in your spine. In rare cases, the nerve can be damaged because of diabetes or other diseases. Nerve compression due to a tumor can cause sciatica as well. Obesity, your occupation and age, and prolonged sitting are also common risk factors for sciatica.

How is Sciatica Treated?

To be diagnosed with sciatica and determine its cause, a complete physical exam along an evaluation of your medical history and an analysis of your symptoms is essential. A doctor may also ask you to slowly raise each leg to so that he or she could pinpoint the elevation at which your pain starts. Diagnostic tests such as x-rays, MRIs, and myelograms may also be performed.

Fortunately, self-care treatments can help relieve sciatica. Some of these self-care measures include placing cold ice packs on the painful area several times a day, applying heat to areas of pain, stretching exercises, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Advil.

If at home self-care measures have not improved your sciatica, your physician may recommend certain prescription medications, physical therapy, or surgery.

  • Medications.  Drugs prescribed for sciatica include narcotics, anti-inflammatories, tricyclic antidepressants, or anti-seizure medications.
  • Physical Therapy.  Physical therapy exercises that improve your flexibility, strengthen your back muscles, and correct your posture can help you prevent sciatica in the future.
  • Surgery.  When the compressed nerve leads to loss of bladder and bowel control, serious weakness, or pain that worsens over time instead of improving, surgery may be performed. Sciatica surgery usually involves removing a part of the ruptured disk or the bone spur to stop pressing on the pinched nerve. Learn more about spine surgery »

For a thorough examination of your sciatica or to determine whether or not you have this condition, visit the board-certified spine and pain experts at EmergeOrtho: Foothills Region. We’re conveniently located in the Unifour area and offer our patients with countless benefits including a waived MRI requirement before an initial appointment and the option to select a nearby hospital in the Unifour area for any surgical procedure. You can choose from one of the following hospitals instead of driving a longer distance to a bigger city hospital:

  • Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory
  • Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory
  • Caldwell UNC Healthcare in Lenoir
  • Carolinas Healthcare System Blue Ridge in Morganton