Sciatica is a condition where the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the back of each leg, becomes irritated or compressed, causing pain, numbness, and tingling in the affected leg.

The basics

Sciatica is a condition that causes pain, numbness, and weakness that radiates from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down the legs. It occurs when the largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve, becomes compressed or irritated. Sciatica can affect anyone, but it is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50 and can be caused by spinal stenosis, herniated discs, and degenerative disc disease.

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Sciatica typically presents as a sharp, shooting pain that radiates from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down the legs. The pain can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by other symptoms. Here are some common symptoms of sciatica:

  • Pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back of the leg
  • Numbness or tingling in the affected leg or foot
  • Weakness in the affected leg or foot
  • Pain that worsens after prolonged sitting or standing
  • Pain that is aggravated by coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty with walking or standing
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Therapies & treatments


Physiotherapy is often the first line of treatment for sciatica. A therapist can help develop an exercise program to improve strength, flexibility, and posture. They can also provide manual therapy to reduce pain and improve mobility.

Neural Mobilization

This technique involves stretching and mobilizing the nerves that are involved in sciatic nerve irritation. The goal is to reduce compression and tension on the nerves, which can help to alleviate pain and improve function.

Core Strengthening

Strengthening the muscles of the core, including the abdominals and lower back muscles, can help to improve posture and spinal stability, which may reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Soft Tissue Mobilization

This involves using manual therapy techniques, such as massage or myofascial release, to release tension and adhesions in the soft tissues surrounding the sciatic nerve. This can help to improve circulation and reduce nerve irritation.

Exercise Therapy

Exercise therapy can help to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion, which can help to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. A physiotherapist may prescribe exercises specific to the individual's needs and abilities.

Postural Education

Learning proper posture and movement techniques can help to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve and prevent future episodes of sciatica. A physiotherapist can provide education and guidance on proper body mechanics for various activities, such as sitting, standing, and lifting.

Trigger Point Release

This involves using pressure or massage to release trigger points, which are areas of tightness and tenderness in the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve. Releasing these trigger points can help to reduce tension and improve circulation in the affected area.

Joint Mobilization

This technique involves using manual therapy techniques to improve mobility and range of motion in the joints of the spine and pelvis. This can help to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve and improve overall function.

Gait Training

Gait training involves analyzing a patient's walking pattern and addressing any abnormalities or inefficiencies that may be contributing to sciatic nerve irritation. A physiotherapist can provide guidance on proper foot placement, stride length, and other aspects of walking to reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.


Medications can be used to manage pain and inflammation associated with sciatica. Commonly used medications include:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce inflammation and pain associated with sciatica. They work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.

Muscle relaxants

These medications can help relieve muscle spasms that may be contributing to sciatica pain. Common muscle relaxants include cyclobenzaprine and methocarbamol.


Certain antidepressant medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), may be prescribed to manage chronic pain associated with sciatica. These medications can help regulate the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that affect pain perception.


Anticonvulsant medications, such as gabapentin or pregabalin, can also be used to manage chronic pain associated with sciatica. They work by reducing abnormal electrical activity in the brain and spinal cord that can contribute to pain.


In some cases, corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and swelling around the nerve roots that are causing sciatica pain. These medications may be administered orally, topically, or by injection.


Epidural Steroid Injections (ESI)

ESI is a common procedure used to alleviate sciatic pain. A corticosteroid medication is injected directly into the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord, reducing inflammation and providing pain relief. Multiple injections may be necessary for long-term pain management.

Transforaminal Epidural Injections (TFEIs)

TFEIs are similar to ESI, but the medication is injected directly into the foraminal space, where the nerve exits the spine. This targeted approach can provide more effective pain relief for some patients.

Facet Joint Injection

A facet joint injection involves injecting a numbing medication into the joints that connect the vertebrae, providing relief for sciatic pain caused by inflammation or dysfunction of these joints.

Pulsed Radiofrequency

Pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) is a minimally invasive procedure that uses electrical stimulation to interrupt pain signals along the sciatic nerve, providing pain relief. During the procedure, a needle is inserted near the affected nerve and small bursts of electrical current are applied to the area. The electrical current is delivered in short pulses, which can help to reduce pain without damaging the nerve. PRF is considered a low-risk procedure with few side effects, and it can provide longer-lasting pain relief than other treatments such as steroid injections.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk therapy that can help individuals manage the emotional and psychological aspects of chronic pain associated with sciatica. It can help individuals develop coping strategies, improve communication skills, and promote relaxation.

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Self-care strategies


Gentle stretching exercises can help alleviate sciatic nerve pain and improve flexibility. A physical therapist or exercise physiologist can help design a stretching program that is safe and effective for your specific condition.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Use a heating pad or warm towel for 20 minutes at a time, or an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 15-20 minutes at a time. Be sure to alternate between heat and cold therapy.

Posture Correction

Poor posture can contribute to sciatic nerve pain. Maintaining good posture can help alleviate symptoms. Avoid slouching and try to sit and stand up straight, with your shoulders back and your chin tucked in.

Pain Relief Medications

Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. However, it's important to follow the recommended dosage and speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new medication.

Supportive Devices

Using a lumbar cushion or rolled-up towel to support your lower back when sitting or sleeping can help alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve. Your healthcare provider may also recommend a brace or splint to help support the affected area.

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