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Understanding Sciatica: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

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Understanding Sciatica: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Imagine this: you're going about your day when suddenly, a sharp, shooting pain radiates from your lower back down to your leg. This excruciating pain is characteristic of sciatica, a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In this article, Bradley A Silva, MD, double board-certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, delves into the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for sciatica, helping you gain a better understanding of this often-debilitating condition.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Sciatica is not a disorder in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying issue. It occurs when the sciatic nerve, or its roots, becomes compressed or irritated. This nerve runs from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down each leg. The hallmark symptom of sciatica is pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down the leg, typically affecting only one side of the body. The pain can vary from a mild ache to a severe, burning sensation, making even the simplest movements excruciating. Other common symptoms include:

  1. Numbness and Tingling: Along with pain, you might experience numbness, tingling, or a pins-and-needles sensation in the leg or foot.

  2. Muscle Weakness: Sciatica can cause muscle weakness in the affected leg, making it challenging to walk, stand, or even maintain balance.

  3. Pain Aggravation: Pain can intensify when sitting, coughing, sneezing, or during sudden movements, as these actions further irritate the already compromised sciatic nerve.

Causes of Sciatica

Several underlying conditions can lead to the development of sciatica. Some of the most common causes include:

  1. Herniated Disc: A herniated or slipped disc occurs when the soft inner material of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the tougher outer layer, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  2. Spinal Stenosis: This condition involves the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots, including the sciatic nerve roots.

  3. Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis muscle, located deep in the buttocks, can sometimes become tight or spasmodic, leading to compression of the sciatic nerve.

  4. Degenerative Disc Disease: As we age, the discs between the vertebrae can wear down, causing them to lose their cushioning ability and potentially leading to sciatic nerve irritation.

  5. Spondylolisthesis: This condition occurs when a vertebra slips forward over the one below it, causing pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Treatment Options For Sciatica

The good news is that most cases of sciatica can be managed effectively with conservative treatments. It's important to note that treatment options may vary based on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Here are some common approaches:

  1. Pain Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can provide temporary relief from sciatic pain. In more severe cases, your doctor might prescribe stronger medications.

  2. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can develop a tailored exercise program to improve flexibility, strengthen core muscles, and alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  3. Hot and Cold Therapy: Alternating between hot and cold packs can help reduce inflammation and soothe the affected area.

  4. Epidural Steroid Injections: In some cases, doctors may recommend injecting corticosteroids directly into the affected area to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.

  5. Surgery: Surgery is usually considered a last resort if conservative treatments fail to provide relief. Procedures like discectomy (removing the herniated portion of a disc) or laminectomy (removing a portion of a vertebra to relieve pressure) may be performed.

  6. Lifestyle Modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing can help prevent sciatica or reduce its recurrence.


Sciatica can be a painful and debilitating condition that affects your daily life. However, with the right treatment approach, most individuals can find relief and manage their symptoms effectively. 

At Lakeshore Pain and Spine Center, we work with patients suffering from conditions like sciatica to develop treatment plans to help ease pain and improve their quality of life. Whether you’re dealing with sciatica or other pain conditions, call us at 262-484-4035 or request an appointment online.