Orthopaedic Spine Center
450 Broadway St. | MC6342
Redwood City, CA 94063
For Adult Patients: (650) 725-5905

Sciatica (lumbar radiculopathy)

What is sciatica?

Sciatica, also known as lumbar radiculopathy, is a pain that was originally described as originating along the sciatic nerve, which extends from the back of the pelvis down the back of the thigh. The sciatic nerve is the primary nerve of the leg and is also the largest nerve in the entire body. Lumbar radiculopathy can involve any nerve which supplies the legs.

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What causes sciatica?

Usually, sciatica is caused by a herniated disc in the spine that presses on a spinal nerve. Other causes that may put pressure on spinal nerves may include the following:

  • tumor
  • abscess
  • blood clot
  • awkward sitting position
  • certain nerve disorders

Sometimes, a cause for the sciatica cannot be identified.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

The following are the most common symptoms of sciatica. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • lower back pain that radiates down the buttock and/or back of one thigh
  • pain that extends from back down one leg
  • numbness (in severe cases)
  • weakness (in severe cases)

The symptoms of sciatica may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.

How is sciatica diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for sciatica may include the following:

  • x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Treatment for sciatica

Specific treatment for sciatica will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

To help relieve the pain of sciatica, treatment may include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • heat or cold applications to the sore muscles
  • keep your body in motion (to minimize inflammation)
  • selective injections
  • surgery to take pressure off of the affected spinal nerve