Sciatica is pain, tingling, or numbness produced by an irritation of the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is formed by the nerve roots coming out of the spinal cord into the lower back. Branches of the sciatic nerve extend through the buttocks and down the back of each leg to the ankle and foot.

What causes sciatica?

The most common cause of sciatica is a bulging or ruptured disc (bulging/herniated disc) in the spine pressing against the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. However, sciatica also can be a symptom of other conditions that affect the spine, such as narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis), bone spurs (small, bony growths that form along joints) caused by arthritis, or nerve root compression (pinched nerve) caused by injury. In rare cases, sciatica can also be caused by conditions that do not involve the spine, such as tumors or pregnancy.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of sciatica include pain that begins in your back or buttocks and moves down your leg and may move into your foot. Weakness, tingling, or numbness in the leg may also occur.

Sitting, standing for a long time, and movements that cause the spine to flex (such as knee-to-chest exercises) may make symptoms worse. Walking, lying down, and movements that extend the spine (such as shoulder lifts) may relieve symptoms.

How is it treated?

In some cases, sciatica will improve and go away with time. In others, something as simple as taking Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen may help. Simple exercises such as short walks alternated with lying down helps relieve sciatica pain for another group of patients, while for others avoiding sitting for extended periods provides relief.

If none of these measures give relief, serious treatment is called for, and that treatment will depend on what is causing the nerve irritation. These treatments may include physical therapy, steroid injections, or even surgery for severe cases. However, if physical therapy has not helped, then before any patient subjects him or herself to steroidal injections or back surgery, chiropractic treatment should always be considered as a viable option. You, the patient, can always opt for drugs or surgery, but you can’t always undo their side effects or the harm they may do without having cured your sciatic pain.