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What is Sciatica?

What is Sciatica?

If your doctor has diagnosed you with sciatica, you may be asking yourself, “what is sciatica?”  “Sciatica” is the diagnosis of pain or discomfort caused by disruption to the sciatica nerve. The sciatic nerve is located at the very base of your spinal cord and runs down your legs. Therefore, often times symptoms of sciatica occur not just in the lower back.

What does the sciatic nerve do?

The primary function of the sciatica nerve is to transmit information from your brain to your legs, and information from your legs to your brain. You know that cramping, burning feeling you get after climbing multiple flights of stairs? Those are your sciatic nerves telling your brain that your legs are exhausted and need a break!

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

People with sciatica usually exhibit symptoms of:

  • tingling sensation in the buttock and thigh area
  • shooting pains down the thigh
  • burning feeling in the thigh and buttock area
  • excessive cramping (even when not exercising) in the thigh and buttock area
  • traveling pain from the buttock all the way down your thigh
  • inflammation in the lower back area and thigh

How do I get sciatica?

There are numerous ways you can disrupt your sciatic nerve and get sciatica. Most people who experience sciatica symptoms suffer from a herniated (or slipped) disk. This occurs when a disk at the base of your spine moves out of its normal position and compacts the sciatic nerves causing pain and discomfort. However, any type of disruption to the sciatic nerve (spinal stenosis, infection, spondylolisthesis, piriformis syndrom, disease, or tumors) can cause sciatica. Anything that impacts or disrupts your sciatic nerves can cause sciatica.

What treatments are available for sciatica?

It is crucial that you get a professional diagnosis of sciatica before attempting any treatments. This diagnosis should also reveal if you have acute sciatica or chronic sciatica. Your health professional will also suggest possible treatments and you should follow their treatment program. While a very small percentage never fully recover from sciatica, the high majority (almost 90%) make a full recovery with no permanent damage to the sciatica nerve.

In-Home Methods

  • Stretches designed for easing your Sciatica.
  • Ice & Heat: Ice and heat may reduce inflammation and ease the pain. Alternating the two of these can also be beneficial.
  • Hot Bath: The consistent heat may reduce inflammation and ease the pain.
  • Exercise: Even short walks to get your body moving can reduce symptoms.


Since sciatica often causes inflammation, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen may be suggested. For more chronic cases of sciatica prescription painkillers, may be prescribed.

Physical Therapy

Utilizing a respected physical therapist can expedite your recovery. You will be able to use the all the techniques you learn with your therapist at home. This will allow you to be more proactive after your recovery and avoid further discomfort.


While not commonly practiced, Biofeedback can have a place in your treatment plan. Simply put, biofeedback is the process of controlling some of your physiological functions; such as pain.


Surgery is usually a last resort option to relieve your back pain. The surgery for sciatica varies but can include widening the space where the nerves are in order to decrease the compression they may be feeling or fully removing the herniated disk.

Who is most prone for sciatica?

While anyone can experience symptoms of sciatica there is a direct correlation with age and likelihood of sciatica onset. The older and individual is, the more likely they are to begin showing signs of sciatica. People who lift incorrectly and frequently and those with poor posture are also more likely to have issues with their sciatica. People who are inactive and stay sedentary are also at risk for sciatica because they are not keeping the muscles that protect the sciatic nerve strong.

How can I prevent sciatica?

The best prevention for sciatica is regular movement and exercise. Please see our articles and videos on the best in-home prevention for your symptom.

It is important to not self-diagnose yourself with sciatica. While it is important to answer the question, “What is Sciatica,” it is important to have a certified doctor diagnose you with sciatica.

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