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What Is Sciatica? 

Sciatica is a term used to describe symptoms arising from inflammation or irritation of the nerve roots that begin in the lower back (lumbosacral spine). The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body and is composed of these nerve roots. It originates in the lower back and branches down through the hips, buttocks and legs. Pain—sometimes severe pain—is the main symptom of sciatica, but there are a variety of treatments available, most of which provide long-term relief. 


Pain associated with sciatica can occur anywhere along the nerve, but is usually felt in the lower back, traveling to the buttock, the back of the thigh or the calf. It usually affects only one side. 

Other symptoms can include: 

  • Numbness 

  • Tingling 

  • Weakness 

Causes and Risk Factors 

Causes of sciatica include: 

  • Bone spur 

  • Herniated disc in the lumbar spine pressing against the nerve 

  • Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that causes pressure on the sciatic nerve 

  • Spondylolisthesis 

People who are more likely to develop sciatica: 

  • Are older 

  • Are female 

  • Are overweight or obese 

  • Are largely sedentary 

  • Have a job requiring twisting or heavy lifting 


A doctor will first take a medical history and perform a physical exam, checking for symptoms like pain and muscle weakness. To help confirm a diagnosis, a medical professional might order an imaging study, such as: 

  • X-ray, to reveal a bone spur, scoliosis or a misaligned spine 

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to determine a herniated disc 

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan, to show misaligned vertebrae or fractures around the spine 

  • Electromyography (EMG), to measure electrical impulses of muscles and nerves in order to check for nerve compression or other nerve problems 


There are numerous ways to treat sciatica without surgery. Physical therapy and exercises to strengthen the back and core can help keep the pain away. Medication such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, painkillers and nerve drugs can help. A steroid injection may be able to reduce inflammation in discs and nerves. 

If these more conservative methods do not reduce symptoms, surgery may be necessary. The type of surgery will depend on the underlying cause of the sciatica. The portions of a herniated disc that are pressing on the nerve can be removed in a microdiscectomy, while a laminectomy can open up the spinal column and release pressure on the nerve in cases of spinal stenosis. 


If you’re ready to seek treatment for your sciatica, follow the link below and answer a few short questions. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for choosing Summit Health. 

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