Inflammation of the Sciatic Nerve—Sciatica

Written by Lali Sekhon, MD, PhD, FACS, FAANS

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Sciatica—shooting pain down the back of one or both of your legs—is generally caused by inflammation of your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body (it’s about the width of your little finger). It runs along each side of your lumbar spine (low back) all the way down to your feet. Any type of pressure or pinching on this nerve can cause sciatica, inflammation, and other symptoms.

What Causes Sciatica?

What Causes Sciatica?
The pressure or pinching on the sciatic nerve can be caused by a low back condition, such as a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis.

Sciatica Symptoms
Sciatica leg painSciatica can feel like electricity running down your leg, and it can also cause a tingling sensation and numbness. But besides the pain, there are many other symptoms of sciatica and not everyone who has sciatica will have exactly the same symptoms.

  • Lower back pain that radiates (spreads) into one or both buttocks, thighs, calves and feet of one or both legs.
  • Pain and symptoms may be felt anywher along the sciatic nerve’s pathway.
  • Pain may be described as mild, dull, achy, sharp, electric-like jolt(s).
  • Sneezing can increase the pain.
  • Sensations may include numbness and/or tingling.
  • Extremity weakness such as in the leg(s).

Diagnosing Sciatica
To help diagnose sciatica, your doctor will ask you several questions about your symptoms. He or she will want to know things such as when your pain started and if anything reduces your pain or makes it worse.

Your doctor will also perform physical and neurological exams and may order some imaging tests, such as an x-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan, to confirm a sciatica diagnosis. But your doctor will let you know what specific exams and tests you’ll need. Learn more about what exams and tests are used to diagnose sciatica in our exams and tests for sciatica article.

Sciatica Treatments
Basic treatments for inflammation of the sciatic nerve include managing your pain with medications for sciatica, physical therapy, and exercise.

Watch a video on sciatica exercises, and learn 3 stretches that can help with the inflammation and pain of the sciatic nerve.

In many people, non-surgical treatments will help address the inflammation of the sciatic nerve. But if non-surgical treatments haven’t worked for you, then your doctor may suggest you consider surgery for sciatica. He or she will let you know if you’re a candidate for sciatica surgery.