Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain that is caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, and all the way down both legs, ending at your feet.
The pain of sciatica radiates out from the lower back, down the buttocks and into one or both of the legs, right down to the calf.
The pain often gets worse over time and may also be made worse by:
- sneezing, coughing or laughing (impulse pain)
- standing or sitting for a long period of time
- bending backwards
If you have sciatica, you may also experience the following symptoms around your legs and feet:
- muscle weakness
Causes of sciatica
A slipped disc is the most common identified cause of sciatica, but in some cases there is no obvious cause.
Less common causes include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine), injury, infection or a growth in the spine.
When to see a doctor
See a doctor if:
- you experience any other symptoms together with your back and leg pain, such as weight loss or loss of bladder or bowel control
- you experience increasingly more pain and discomfort
- your pain is too severe to manage with self-help measures
In these cases, your doctor should check whether there is a more serious problem causing your pain.
Most cases of sciatica can be treated conservatively, such as, oral medicines, physiotherapy and injection.
For persistent sciatica, a surgery may be needed to control the symptoms.
There are some steps you can take to minimise your risk of a slipped disc or back injury that could lead to sciatica. This includes:
- better posture and lifting techniques
- stretching before and after exercise
- simple, regular exercises to improve flexibility