Causes of sciatica

There are a number of underlying causes of sciatica include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
    Disc degeneration is very common when people age. If you experience one or more degenerated discs in the lower back, a nerve root will be irritated and sciatica will be caused.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
    Spine will age when you are over the age of 60, lumbar spinal stenosis will be caused. Stenosis in this area will cause narrowing of the spinal canal, leading to overgrowth of soft tissue, and a bulging disc placing pressure on the nerve roots. Sciatica pain will be the result.
  • Pregnancy
    Weight gain during pregnancy will shift one’s centre of gravity, making the pregnancy woman easier to sustain sciatica.
  • Muscle strain
    Inflammation resulted from a muscle strain can put pressure on a nerve root and cause sciatica.


  • Infection
    Though the situation is rare, infection occurs in the lower back can affect the nerve root and cause sciatica.
  • Spinal tumor
    A spinal tumor can impinge on a nerve root in the lower back and cause sciatica.
Symptoms of sciatica

Sciatica is often characterized by one or more symptoms include:

  • Constant pain along one side of the buttock or leg (rarely occur in both legs)
  • Pain varies widely from a mild ache to a sharp and burning sensation, or tingling down the leg
  • Coughing or sneezing, and prolonged sitting will aggravate the symptoms
  • Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or walk

Sciatic pain can vary from infrequent to constant pattern. Though debilitating it will be, it is rare that permanent sciatic nerve damage will result. Most cases can be resolved with just conservative treatments in a few weeks. Severe cases will need surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Diagnosis of sciatica
  • Physical examination
    Your doctor will check your muscle strength and reflexes by doing the following actions: If you get sciatica, you will experience pain.
  • Walk on your toes or heels
  • Rise from a squatting position
  • Lie on your back and lift your legs one at a time straight in the air


  • Imaging tests
    Imaging tests will be ordered by your doctor if your pain is very severe or does not improve within a few weeks. They will be used to examine whether you have herniated disks or bone spurs that normally produce no symptoms, but may show up on X-rays and other imaging tests.
  • X-ray
    X-ray will be a good way to reflect whether you have overgrowth of bone (bone spur) that presses on a nerve.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    MRI uses magnetic field and radio waves to produce cross-sectional images of your back, which clearly shows any problems of your bones and soft tissues, such as herniated disks.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
    You may need to inject a contrast dye into your spinal canal before taking CT scan, the dye which circulates around your spinal cord and spinal nerves will show clearly on screen.
Treatments of sciatica

Though non-surgical treatments and exercise sessions are available to treat sciatica, it goes a long way to relieve your pain. Here are some treatments options for your reference:

Non-surgical treatments:

One or more combinations will be used for better results:

  • Medications
    A number of medicines can be used to treat the pain of sciatica. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or oral steroids can reduce the inflammation. Muscle relaxants, narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants or anti-seizure medications are other options that your doctor will consider based on your situation.
  • Pain relieving injections
    Injections into or near your spine help deliver pain-reducing medicines directly to the source of pain and can ease sciatica. Right before the injection, you will receive a local anaesthetic to block pain from the injected area. A sedative will be offered to make you relax and ease your anxiety. The two main types of injections include:
  • Epidural steroid injection: Steroid is injected directly to the painful area around the sciatic nerve to help reduce the inflammation.
  • Nerve root block injection: Targets individual nerves in your spine.

Alternative treatments:

In addition to standard medical treatments, several alternative treatments including manual manipulation, acupuncture and massage therapy have shown some effects on pain relief.

  • Manual manipulation
    Manual manipulation is provided by trained health professionals such as chiropractors, physiotherapists, etc. It offers better spinal column alignment that may address potential causes of sciatica.
  • Acupuncture
    Acupuncture aims to use hair-thin needles to insert into the skin near the area of pain, achieving wellbeing through specific pathways of the body.
Last Updated: Aug 2017
Please note that all medical health articles featured on our website have been reviewed by Quality Healthcare doctors. The articles are for general information only and are not medical opinions nor should the contents be used to replace the need for personal consultation with a qualified health professional on the reader’s medical condition.