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Give Your Pain a Name: Sciatica

September 05, 2012 in Article, Ask the Expert, Low-Back Pain, Pain Management,
Posted by Thomas C. Schuler


Sciatica is one of the more common terms used when a person is experiencing pain down their leg. Sciatica is not an actual diagnosis; it is a medical term used to describe symptoms (shooting pain, tingling, and numbness) caused by a low back condition.

There are many potential causes for sciatica including a bulging disc or a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, piriformis syndrome, pregnancy, spinal stenosis, a spinal tumor or spinal infection, spondylolisthesis, or trauma.  Any one of those conditions can put pressure on the sciatic nerve or related nerve roots in your low back, which then causes pain and other symptoms.

Your doctor may also call sciatica a “radiculopathy”, which is a medical term used to describe pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms or legs. Since sciatica originates in your low back, the lumbar spine, it is called a lumbar radiculopathy.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in your body. Five sets of paired nerve roots combine to create it, and it’s about the diameter of a pencil. The sciatic nerve starts in your low back, and travels through your pelvic region.

In most people, the sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis muscle, which moves your thigh side to side. From there, the sciatic nerve descends through the buttocks and the back of the thighs. Behind your knee, smaller nerves branch out from the sciatic nerve and travel down to your feet.

The symptoms for sciatica can be wide ranging:

  • Pain can travel from the low back, through the buttocks, downward into the leg, and sometimes into the foot.
  • It can feel like shooting pain, burning, tingling numbness or weakness.
  • You can feel symptoms down your entire leg, only part of your leg, or on only one side of your lower body.
  • Pain can range from mild to severe and can cause sitting, standing, and walking to be painful and/or difficult.

The treatment for sciatica may differ depending on the underlying cause of the symptoms.

Contact our spinal specialists for the best treatment options for your sciatica.