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What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the general term for pain caused by an inflammation, pinching, or compression of the large, thick sciatic nerve that begins in the lower back and radiates through the hips, buttocks and both legs. Identifying and treating the specific cause of the pain is key to providing patients relief. The most common causes of sciatica, also called lumbosacral radicular syndrome, are herniated disk, slipped disk, and bone spurs that put pressure on the nerve root.

Sciatica is common, with about 40% of people experiencing it at some point in their lives. More than half of pregnant women also experience sciatica symptoms. The vast majority of people with sciatica get better on their own with self-care treatments within a few weeks.

UTHealth Neurosciences’ pain specialist Dr. Hiral Patel and neurosurgeon Dr. Krish Vigneswaran discuss common issues related to back pain and how they are treated.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica occurs when a herniated disk or bone spur pinches the sciatic nerve. Age, obesity, and prolonged sitting increase the occurrence of sciatica. It can also be caused by other conditions that put pressure on the sciatic nerve, including stenosisosteoarthritis, spondylolidthesis, or degenerative disc disease. Cysts and tumors are less common causes of sciatica. Many pregnant women also suffer sciatica symptoms.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Sciatica is characterized by pain that radiates from the lower back down to the buttock and through the back of the leg. Patients may experience pain, numbness, and tingling all the way down to the foot. The degree of pain can vary from a mild cramp to a sharp, burning sensation. Coughing or sneezing can worsen the pain. It may be hard to stand up or move the leg or foot. Patients who experience severe pain, numbness, muscle weakness in the leg, or difficulty controlling bowels or bladder, should schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.

Diagnosis of Sciatica

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, during which they will check your muscle strength and check to see whether pain increases during certain movements of your legs and feet. If the pain is ongoing, an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be ordered to check for herniated disks or bone spurs that may be pressing on a nerve. Diagnostic nerve blocks may also be used.

Treatment of Sciatica

The majority of cases of sciatica resolve on their own within a few weeks, but treatment may be needed to decrease pain and increase mobility. Patients can apply ice or heat to help pain relief. Engaging in light activity, without strenuous lifting or long periods of sitting, is also recommended. Prolonged bed rest has little benefit to patients with sciatica. Gentle stretches of the spine and hamstrings may also be beneficial.

In some cases, your specialist may recommend physical therapy, traction therapy, epidural steroid injections, or prescription pain relievers. If you suffer from chronic sciatica, your surgeon may recommend a microdiscectomy or another procedure to remove fragments of a herniated disc.

What you can expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

UTHealth Neurosciences brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. You will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Contact Us

At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.