Sciatica

Introduction

Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain that is caused by irritation 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.

Symptoms of sciatica

When something irritates the sciatic nerve, it can cause a pain that radiates out from your lower back and travels down your leg to your calf. You may also feel pain, pins and needles or numbness in your leg

Find out more about the Symptoms of sciatica

Causes of sciatica

There is no one cause of sciatica. This can be very frustrating. Thankfully most sciatica will clear up in time.

Find out more about the Causes of sciatica

Types of sciatica

There are two types of sciatica:

  • Acute sciatica, which lasts up to six weeks
  • Persistent (chronic) sciatica, which lasts longer than six weeks

Most cases of acute sciatica will pass without the need for treatment. A combination of self-management measures such as over-the-counter painkillers, exercise and hot or cold packs can usually relieve the symptoms.

For persistent sciatica, you may be advised to try a structured exercise programme under the supervision of a physiotherapist. In very rare cases, surgery may be needed to control the symptoms.

Outlook

Most people find their sciatic pain goes away naturally within a few days or weeks. However, you experience any or all of the following since your sciatica started you should contact your GP immediately:

  • Difficulty passing or controlling urine
  • Numbness or altered feeling around your back passage or genitals, for example - wiping after toilet
  • Pins & needles around your back passage or genitals, for example - wiping after toilet
  • Problems with sexual activity

If you experience any of the following, you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Sciatica that starts when you are ill with other problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer
  • Numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in one or both legs that has not improved after one week
  • Unsteadiness when you walk
  • Your sciatica has not improved within six weeks
Last updated: 29 October 2013

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