Sciatica — symptoms, causes and treatments

Sciatica is a set of symptoms that occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed. The longest and widest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower back through the legs and into the feet. The sciatic nerve transmits sensory and motor information between the brain and the lower body. When the sciatic nerve, also called a pinched nerve, is compressed, pain and other symptoms can radiate along its length, causing discomfort and mobility problems in the lower extremities.

Symptoms of sciatica

The symptoms that are commonly associated with sciatica include:

  • Sharp pain in the lower back
  • Numbness and tingling that radiate through the buttocks and thighs
  • Muscle weakness and spasms in the legs
  • Pins-and-needles sensations in the toes

Compression of the sciatic nerve most often occurs on one side of the spine or the other, but some patients experience constriction of both the left and right nerve roots, leading to symptoms on both sides of the body.

Causes of sciatica

Sciatica can occur as a result of a congenital condition, spinal tumor or other cause, but it is most commonly the result of a degenerative spine condition that is related to natural aging. These conditions lead to misalignment of or damage to spinal anatomy, which can narrow the already tight nerve passages in the spine. Herniated discs, bulging discs, spinal arthritis and bone spurs are all conditions that can lead to sciatica.

Treatments and when to consider surgery

Many people are able to find relief from sciatica by working with their doctors to develop a personalized conservative treatment plan. If several weeks or months of conservative therapy — such as taking medication or participating in physical therapy sessions — are unable to provide relief and a return to normal activity, surgery may be recommended.

If you are considering a traditional open spine procedure for sciatica, you should also learn about the minimally invasive spine surgery performed at Laser Spine Institute. Our surgeons use a less than 1-inch incision, leading to an outpatient procedure with less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional procedures.^

Contact us for more information and ask about our no-cost MRI or CT scan review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

Browse Related Resources