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Introduction

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.

Signs and symptoms


When the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated,
it can cause pain, numbness and a tingling
sensation that radiates from your lower back and
travels down one of your legs to your foot and
toes.
The pain can range from being mild to very
painful, and may be made worse by sneezing,
coughing, or sitting for a long period of time.
Some people with sciatica may also experience
muscle weakness in the affected leg.
While people with sciatica can also have
general back pain, the pain associated with
sciatica usually affects the buttocks and legs
much more than the back.

When to see your GP


Most people find their sciatic pain goes away
naturally within a few weeks, although some
cases can last for a year or more. You should see
your GP if your symptoms are severe
or persistent, or are getting worse over time.
Your GP will usually be able to confirm a
diagnosis of sciatica based on your symptoms
and recommend suitable treatments. If
necessary, they can refer you to a specialist for
further investigation.
You should immediately call 999 for an
ambulance if you experience loss of sensation
between your legs and around your buttocks
and/or loss of bladder or bowel control. Although
it is rare, these symptoms can be a sign of a
serious condition called cauda equina syndrome.
Read more about diagnosing sciatica.

What causes sciatica?


In the vast majority of cases, sciatica is caused
by a herniated or "slipped" disc. This is when one
of the discs that sit between the bones of the
spine (the vertebrae) is damaged and presses on
the nerves.
Less common causes include spinal stenosis
(narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine), a
spinal injury or infection, or a growth within the
spine (such as a tumour).
You can minimise your risk of developing a
slipped disc or back injury that could lead to
sciatica by adopting a better posture and lifting
techniques at work, as well as stretching before
and after exercise, and exercising regularly.
Read more about the causes of
sciatica and preventing sciatica.

How sciatica is treated


Many cases of sciatica will pass in around six
weeks without the need for treatment.
However, a combination of things you can do at
home – such as taking over-the-counter
painkillers, exercising and using hot or cold
packs – may help reduce the symptoms until the
condition improves.
In more persistent cases, you may be advised to
follow a structured exercise programme under the
supervision of a physiotherapist, have injections
of anti-inflammatory and painkilling medication
into your spine, and/or take stronger painkiller
tablets.
In rare cases, surgery may be needed to correct
the problem in your spine.
Read more about treating sciatica.