Sciatica is a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, a large nerve extending from the lower back down the back of each leg.
Sciatica usually affects only one side of the lower body. Often, the pain extends from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also extend to the foot or toes.
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched, usually by a herniated disk in your spine or by an overgrowth of bone on your vertebrae. More rarely, the nerve can be compressed by a tumor or damaged by a disease such as diabetes. Some additional common causes may be pregnancy, lumbar spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, degenerative disc disease, or being overweight.
For some people, the pain of having sciatica can be severe and debilitating. The most common symptoms are pain in the rear or leg that is worse when sitting, burning or tingling down the leg, weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot, a constant pain on one side of the rear, and a shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up.
For most people, a simple physical examination will be enough for a doctor to make a diagnosis of sciatica. Other diagnostic tests may be done to check for other conditions such as herniated discs or bone spurs. These tests are not usually ordered unless the pain is very severe, or the pain has not gone away in a few weeks.
Physical therapy exercises incorporating strengthening and stretching are a central component to alleviating the discomfort of sciatica. There are many exercises that can help strengthen the spinal column and the supporting muscles, tendons, and ligaments which will help to maintain that the spine stays supported. Stretches for sciatica are designed to target muscles that cause pain when they are tight and inflexible.