Sciatica is a pain that originates along the sciatic nerve, which extends from the back of the pelvis down the back of the thigh. The sciatic nerve is the primary nerve of the leg and the largest nerve in the entire body.

Symptoms of Sciatica

While each person may experience sciatica differently, common symptoms include the following:

  • Lower back pain that radiates down the buttock and back of one thigh
  • Pain that extends from the buttock down to the foot
  • Numbness (in severe cases)
  • Weakness (in severe cases)

Causes of Sciatica

Frequently, sciatica is caused by a herniated disk in the spine that presses on the sciatic nerve. Other factors that may put pressure on the sciatic nerve include:

  • Obesity
  • Poor posture
  • Awkward sitting position
  • Any nerve disorders
  • Piriformis syndrome, or entrapment of the nerve by muscle and connective tissue 

Sometimes the cause of sciatica cannot be identified.

Diagnosing Sciatica

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for sciatica may include the following:

  • X-ray
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan)
  • Electromyogram/nerve condition (EMG/NCV) to check nerve and muscle function
  • Ultrasound
  • Laboratory tests, if needed

Treatments for Sciatica

Your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment plan based on your age, overall health, and medical history; the severity of your condition; and your tolerance for certain medications, procedures, or therapies.

Treatment for your sciatica may include activity modification, exercise, physical therapy, medications, injections, or surgery.

Why Choose Columbia for Sciatica Care

Our highly skilled team of physicians is fully integrated into the Och Spine Program. We provide a thorough diagnostic evaluation to find the cause of your sciatica and plan the most conservative treatment possible. Exercise, lifestyle changes, and medications are often enough to manage an episode of sciatica. If needed for severe cases, our physicians offer minimally invasive procedures, such as fluoroscopically (live x-ray) guided spine injections or ultrasound-guided injections. If surgery is needed, our physicians will refer you to a highly skilled surgical colleague at the Och Spine Hospital.