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Man with sciatica getting up

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.

 

Sciatica is triggered when something — such as a bulging disc or disc herniation, or maybe an irritated disc – puts pressure on your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back down to your legs and feet. This can happen with an injury or just with the wear and tear of aging.

 

What Does Sciatica Feel Like?

The symptoms of sciatica commonly present along the path of the large sciatic nerve. Sciatica is often characterized by one or more of the following features:

  • Pain. Sciatica pain typically feels like a constant burning sensation or a shooting pain starting in the lower back or buttock and radiating down the front or back of the thigh and leg and/or feet.
  • Numbness. Sciatica pain may be accompanied by numbness in the back of the leg. Sometimes, tingling and/or weakness may also be present.
  • One-sided symptoms. Sciatica typically affects one leg. The condition often results in a feeling of heaviness in the affected leg.  Rarely, symptoms may appear in both legs together.
  • Posture induced symptoms. Sciatica symptoms may feel worse while sitting, trying to stand up, bending the spine forward, twisting the spine, lying down, and/or while coughing. The symptoms may be relieved by walking or applying a heat pack over the rear pelvic region.

Diagnosing Sciatica

The first thing your doctor probably will do is ask questions about your back pain: Do you have numbness or weakness in your legs? Do certain positions help your discomfort? Has the pain kept you from doing any activities? Have any home remedies eased your pain at all?

He will also want to know about your lifestyle: Do you do a lot of physical work, like heavy lifting? Do you sit for long periods of time? How often do you exercise?

Next he’ll want to give you a physical exam to try to figure out which nerve is causing your problem. He may have you do some exercises to see if they make your pain worse, such as rising from a squat, walking on your toes and heels, and raising one leg while lying on your back.

If your doctor diagnoses you with sciatica, the good news is that most cases clear up in a few weeks without surgery. If over-the-counter drugs haven’t made a dent in your pain, your doctor may opt to prescribe steroids or give you a steroid injection to reduce the inflammation. You might also need to do physical therapy to help relieve your discomfort.

Andrea Baker PT, ATC, AT/L

Andrea Baker PT, ATC, AT/L

Andrea is the owner and founder of Dynamic Bracing & Physical Therapy, Inc. She graduated with a B.S. in Physical Therapy and won the Faculty Recognition Award from Eastern Washington University in 1994. She is skilled in Fascial Counterstrain and is also a Certified Athletic Trainer. Her highest priority is making her patients better. She combines advanced treatment techniques with patient education, and is sought out for her ability to handle complex and chronic cases where other treatment methods have failed. Andrea feels the profession of physical therapy requires lifetime learning and supports the entire physical therapy team in regularly attending continuing education courses. Andrea is a Spokane native and mother of two. She is an active parent who volunteers at Garfield Elementary and North Central High School. She is passionate about healthy living and spends as much time as possible enjoying nature and the outdoors playing sports, gardening, camping, and hiking in the woods. She enjoys cooking with organic foods and educating people about the benefits of essential oils.