Skip to Main Content
A senior man and his grandchild finish playing basketball at the playground.

Everything you need to know about sciatica nerve pain

Sciatica is a medical condition characterized by pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. It typically affects only one side of your body. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated, often due to a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis).

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

  • Pain

  • Numbness

  • Weakness

  • Burning sensation

  • Difficulty in mobility

  • Worsening symptoms


Sciatica nerve pain causes

  • Herniated disc: When the soft inner material of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer and presses on the sciatic nerve.

  • Degenerative disc disease: Wear and tear of the discs between the vertebrae, leading to narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of the nerve roots.

  • Spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal, often due to aging or arthritis, which puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  • Spondylolisthesis: A condition where one vertebra slips forward over another, causing the vertebrae to compress the nerve roots.

  • Piriformis syndrome: Irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle in the buttocks.

  • Trauma or injury: Impact or injury to the spine, such as a fall or car accident, can lead to compression of the sciatic nerve.

  • Spinal tumors: Rarely, tumors in the spine can compress the sciatic nerve, leading to symptoms of sciatica.


Sciatica treatment options

Treatment for sciatica often involves a combination of self-care measures, physical therapy, medication, and in severe cases, surgery. Here are some common approaches to treating sciatica:

  • Pain management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate mild to moderate sciatic pain. Prescription medications like muscle relaxants or opioids may be prescribed for severe pain.

  • Physical therapy: A structured exercise program designed to strengthen the muscles supporting the back and improve flexibility can help reduce sciatic pain. Physical therapists may also use techniques such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or spinal traction to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat packs or cold packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Alternating between heat and cold therapy may provide additional relief.

  • Epidural steroid injections: Injections of corticosteroid medication directly into the affected area of the spine can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain temporarily.

  • Surgery: In cases where conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgery may be considered. Surgical options for sciatica include discectomy (removal of herniated disc material), laminectomy (removal of bone spurs or lamina), or spinal fusion to stabilize the spine.

  • Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing can help prevent exacerbation of sciatic symptoms. Engaging in low-impact exercises like swimming or walking can also promote spinal health.

It's essential to consult with a St. Joseph Health orthopedic specialist to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and underlying condition.

Find a Doctor

Looking for a doctor? Perform a quick search by name or browse by specialty.

Learn the Stroke Facts