Sciatica is a condition that occurs when a herniated lumbar (lower back) disc compresses one of the roots of the sciatic nerve. This condition is often accompanied by low back pain, which can be more or less severe than the leg pain. The term “sciatica” indicates that the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower back through the buttocks and into the leg, is thought to be the cause of the pain in this condition.


  • moderate to severe pain in the back of the thigh, lower leg or foot
  • pain often begins in the buttocks and runs down through the leg or foot.
  • often accompanied with lower back pain, however leg pain becomes worse than the back pain.
  • if an old injury, the pain may become localized to the buttocks and back of the leg.
  • standing, sitting, heavy lifting, sneezing, or having a bowel movement may aggravate the pain. Lying down is usually the most comfortable position.
  • occasionally paresthesias, weakness and diminished bowel or bladder function will accompany sciatica.


  • thorough history and physical examination
  • Nerve root tension tests


Non-surgical therapies such as medication, rest or physical therapy are typically recommended first. However, if these therapies fail to provide lasting relief over a reasonable length of time, or if there is evidence that nerve root compression is causing nerve damage, your neurosurgeon may recommend surgery. The goal of surgery is to alleviate your symptoms and prevent further damage by removing the source of pressure on the spinal nerve roots.

Your neurosurgeon will discuss the best treatment options for your individual condition.


References: American Association of Neurological Surgeons, National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, National Institute of Health, Barrow Neurological Institute.

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