First Time User? Sign Up Now
Home > Health Library > Sciatica
Sciatica is pain caused by irritation or pressure against the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve. People with sciatica usually have a shooting pain down the back of the leg. But they also may have leg weakness, tingling, or numbness.
The sciatic nerve is formed by the nerve roots coming out of the spinal cord into the lower back (lumbar region). The nerve goes down through the buttock, then its branches extend down the back of the leg to the ankle and foot.
Sciatica is usually caused by a bulging or ruptured (herniated) spinal disc that presses against one or more of the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve. Pregnancy is also a common cause of the condition. Bone spurs (from arthritis or spinal stenosis), compressed nerve roots (usually a result of an injury), and certain rare tumors may also cause sciatica.
Symptoms may become worse from sitting, prolonged standing, or moving in ways that flex the spine (such as curl-ups and knee-to-chest exercises). Symptoms can also become worse from increased pressure from sneezing, coughing, having a bowel movement, or straining for a heavy lift or while laboring to deliver a baby. Symptoms may be relieved by walking, lying down, and moving in ways that extend the spine (such as press-ups).
Treatment depends on what is causing the nerve irritation. Heat or cold therapy (applying ice or a cold pack to the lower back) or physical therapy is often used to help relieve pain.
Current as of: March 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kenneth J. Koval, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.