Learn more about sciatica causes and treatment options

Pain in your back is never pleasant. And for those who experience sciatica, the pain can be sudden, unexpected, and uncomfortable.

What Is Sciatica?

“Sciatica is the term used to describe leg pain that originates in the lower back and travels through the buttocks and down the sciatic nerve in each leg,” says Kimberly Todaro, PT, DPT, OCS, the facility director and a physical therapist at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute’s Cresson location.

“It can also be associated with tingling, numbness, or weakness and typically affects only one side of the body.”

It is rare that individuals younger than 20 will experience sciatic pain: It usually begins in patients in their early to mid-40s, although cases in younger patients have been reported.

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What Causes Sciatica?

“Sciatica can result from regular wear and tear on your body, as well as any pressure placed on the discs that cushion the bones of your lower spine,” Todaro said.

Most commonly, sciatica is caused by a herniated disc. The gel-like center of the disc can sometimes protrude through or into the disc’s outer lining. This can put direct pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain can sometimes be aggravated by prolonged sitting, manual labor, or even coughing or sneezing.

Some causes of sciatica include but are not limited to:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis (chronic inflammation in and around the spine).
  • Fracture.
  • Infection.
  • Muscle strain.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Scar tissue.
  • Spinal tumor.

What Can be Done for Sciatica?

Sciatica usually does not require treatment, as the problem will go away on its own.

Nonsurgical treatment is designed to help you manage your sciatica while maintaining a normal active lifestyle. Motion helps to reduce inflammation, so it is important to try and stay active. There are some specific at-home exercises and stretches that can be done to ease sciatic nerve pain.

Some of these stretches include yoga poses such as “pigeon pose,” a sitting spinal stretch, and a standing hamstring stretch. But when at-home remedies are not helping, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the herniated disc. This surgery is highly successful at relieving pain, particularly if the pain is in the leg.

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Additional Treatments for Sciatica Can Include:

  • Acupuncture.
  • Chiropractic/manual manipulation.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Massage therapy.
  • Physical therapy, including low-impact aerobic exercises, strengthening exercises, and stretching exercises.

How Can You Prevent Sciatica?

To prevent this condition, always be aware of your posture, especially when lifting heavy items. These tips can help:

  • Think before you lift.
  • Start in a good position. (Keep your legs slightly apart and let your legs do the lifting).
  • Keep the load close to your waist.
  • Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways. (Your shoulders should be level and face the same direction as your hips. Turn by moving your feet, not twisting with the back/hips).
  • Keep your head up.
  • Know your limits.
  • Push, don’t pull.
  • Distribute the weight evenly.

Sciatica can be painful and uncomfortable, but in most cases, it does go away on its own. With these tips, sciatica can be a thing of the past.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.