Is It Sciatica?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on August 30, 2017

You have pain in your lower back that radiates down your leg. Sometimes it burns. At other times, your leg feels weak.

These are some of the possible symptoms of sciatica, a common pain involving the sciatic nerve, which extends from your lower back to below your knee in each leg.

Other symptoms can include hip pain, pain in a leg or the rear that worsens while sitting, numbness in a leg or foot or shooting pains.

“Sciatica typically affects one side of the body and often causes pain all the way down the back of the leg,” said Jonathan Carmouche, M.D., chief of Orthopaedic Spine Surgery at Carilion Clinic. “Pain may also be felt in the foot.”

For some, sciatica may come and go, while others suffer from progressive or debilitating pain.

What causes sciatica?

“It can be caused by many factors,” said Dr. Carmouche.

They include: 

  •  A herniated disc pressing on the sciatic nerve
  •  An irritation of the nerve
  •  Internal bleeding
  •  Pregnancy
  •  Injury 
  •  Infection
  •  Inflammation

Some cases can be treated with muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy or exercise. Yoga, Pilates and other conditioning exercises may also help prevent lower-back injuries that might set the stage for sciatica.

“About 10 percent of patients require surgery,” noted Dr. Carmouche.

If you think you may have sciatica, your family doctor may be able to treat it or can refer you to a specialist. The condition is treated by a variety of physicians, including orthopaedists, rheumatologists and neurosurgeons.

“If you have weakness in your legs or feet, or your upper thighs become numb, seek medical care right away,” advised Dr. Carmouche.

Sciatica may be a common problem, but it can also be quite painful. Luckily there are many options for treating it. 

These exercises can help keep your back strong.