Sciatica: Why and How to Treat It

Sciatica is a painful condition that happens when the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed. This nerve starts in your lower back and runs down each leg. People with sciatica feel pain, tingling, or numbness in the lower back, hip, or leg. Common causes include a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or muscle spasms. Treatments often involve physical therapy, medication, or sometimes surgery.

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is more than just a simple backache. It’s when the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in your body, gets pinched or irritated. When this happens, you might feel sharp pain, tingling, or even weakness in your lower back, hip, and legs or even feel like an electric shock. It’s usually felt on just one side of your body.


Common Causes of Sciatica

Herniated Disc

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, a herniated disc is one of the most common causes of sciatica. Imagine the discs in your spine as jelly donuts. If the jelly leaks out, it can press on your sciatic nerve. When this happens, it can cause pain, numbness, and tingling.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis happens when the spaces within your spine narrow. This narrowing can put pressure on the nerves, including the sciatic nerve. If you’re an older adult, you’re more likely to have this condition, which can cause sciatica.

Piriformis Syndrome

The piriformis is a muscle found deep in your buttocks. Sometimes, this muscle can irritate or pinch the sciatic nerve. This condition, called piriformis syndrome, can cause symptoms of sciatica.


Spondylolisthesis is when one of the bones in your spine slips out of place. When this happens, it can pinch the sciatic nerve, causing pain down your leg.

Muscle Spasms

A muscle spasm in your back or buttocks can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This pressure causes the pain of sciatica. If you’ve ever had a “Charley horse” or a sudden, tight cramp, you know what a muscle spasm feels like.

Other Factors that Can Contribute

Being Overweight

If you carry extra weight, it can add stress to your spine. This added stress might cause changes that trigger sciatica.


Your job might also play a role in your sciatica. If you lift heavy objects or twist your back a lot, you could be at risk.


Diabetes can affect how your body uses blood sugar, and this can harm your nerves. People with diabetes may have an increased risk of sciatica.

Symptoms of Sciatica

You might feel different symptoms if you have sciatica, such as:

  • Pain in the lower back or leg that is worse when sitting
  • Weakness or numbness
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • A sharp pain that makes it hard to stand up

How Can You Diagnose Sciatica?

If you think you might have sciatica, a visit to the doctor is usually in order. They will ask you about your symptoms and might even perform a physical examination.

Physical Examination

A physical examination might include testing your muscle strength and reflexes. This helps your doctor figure out exactly where the nerve is being pinched.

Imaging Tests

In some cases, your doctor might recommend an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to get a closer look at what’s going on inside your body.

How Do You Treat Sciatica?

Treating sciatica depends on the cause and how bad your pain is. Below are some common treatment options.

Home Remedies

  • Rest and Relaxation: Sometimes, taking it easy for a few days helps.
  • Hot or Cold Packs: These can reduce swelling and relieve pain.

Physical Therapy

Working with a physical therapist can help you strengthen your muscles and improve your posture. These improvements can relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve.


If the pain is really bad, your doctor might prescribe medications such as:

  • Pain Relievers: Like ibuprofen or naproxen.
  • Muscle Relaxants: To ease muscle spasms.
  • Anti-seizure Medications: Oddly enough, these can help with nerve pain.


In some cases, a doctor might suggest a steroid injection near the pinched nerve. This can reduce inflammation and pain.


Surgery is usually the last option. If nothing else works and the pain is severe, your doctor might recommend a surgical procedure to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve.

How Can You Prevent Sciatica?

While you can’t prevent every case of sciatica, you can take steps to keep your back healthy. Here are a few tips:

  • Stay Active: Regular exercise helps keep your back strong.
  • Mind Your Posture: Whether you’re sitting, standing, or lifting something heavy, good posture helps protect your back.
  • Eat Well and Maintain a Healthy Weight: Extra weight can put unnecessary pressure on your back.

So there you have it. Sciatica can be quite painful, but with the right care, you can find relief. Always talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms and the best course of action for your specific situation.

Further Reading: 4 Stretches You Can Do at Home to Reduce Sciatica Pain

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