March 2, 2017
The term sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain—and possibly
tingling, numbness, or weakness—that originate in the lower back
and travel through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve
in the back of each leg.
Sciatica (pronounced sigh-at-eh-kah) is not a medical diagnosis in
and of itself—it is a symptom of an underlying medical
condition. Common lower back problems that can cause
sciatica symptoms include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative
disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or spinal stenosis.
What is sciatica nerve pain?
Sciatica is often characterized by one or more of the
• Constant pain in only one side of the buttock or leg
(rarely in both legs)
• Pain that is worse when sitting
• Leg pain that is often described as burning, tingling, or
searing (versus a dull ache)
• Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg, foot,
• A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or
• Pain that radiates down the leg and possibly into the foot
and toes (it rarely occurs only in the foot)
Sciatic pain can vary from infrequent and irritating, to
constant and incapacitating. Symptoms are usually based on
the location of the pinched nerve. While symptoms can be
painful and potentially debilitating, it is rare that permanent sciatic nerve damage (tissue damage) will result, and spinal cord
involvement is possible but rare.
The Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica
The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body and is made
up of individual nerve roots that start by branching out from the
spine in the lower back and then combine to form the “sciatic
nerve.” Sciatica symptoms occur when the large sciatic nerve is
irritated or compressed at or near its point of origin.
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, through
the buttock, and down the back of each leg.
Portions of the sciatic nerve then branch out in each
leg to innervate certain parts of the leg—the thigh,
calf, foot, and toes. Sciatica rarely occurs before age 20,
and becomes more commonplace in middle age. It is most
likely to develop around age 40 or 50. Perhaps because
the term sciatica is often used loosely to describe leg
pain, estimates of its prevalence vary widely. Some
researchers have estimated it will affect up to 43% of the
population at some point.
Often, a particular event or injury does not cause
sciatica—rather it tends to develop over time. The vast
majority of people who experience sciatica get better
within a few weeks or months and find pain relief with
nonsurgical sciatica treatment, such as regular care from
an experienced chiropractor. If you or someone you know
thinks they may have sciatica, make an appointment with a HealthSource chiropractor immediately.