Sciatica Pain – What is It? How Can it be Prevented and Treated?

Back Pain WomanWhat are the symptoms of sciatica? Why does a pain in your back affect your leg and foot?

What are sciatica symptoms?
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. Sciatica can sometimes be misdiagnosed.  Sometimes people experience numbness or weakness.  Sometimes it is a tingling sensation. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also travel down to the foot or toes. Some of the symptoms are:

  • one-sided pain
  • weakness or numbness of the thigh and leg
  • tingling sensations
  • pain, tingling or weakness of the foot or toes
  • lower back sharp pain when bending
  • continuous or intermittent pain
  • disabling pain

For some people, the pain or weakness from ssciatic nerveciatica can be continuous, quite severe and disabling. For others, the sciatica pain might be infrequent and irritating, but it is possible that it may get worse over time.  The severity of the symptoms depends on the cause of the sciatica.

What causes sciatica?
Sciatica is often a result of a lumbar disc herniation.   However, any inflammation of the sciatic nerve can result in sciatica pain symptoms, such as radiculopathy.  Causes of sciatica include:

  1. a pinched nerve from a disc
  2. irritation of the nerve from adjacent bones
  3. muscle inflammation
  4. internal bleeding, infections
  5. tumors
  6. injury
  7. and other causes.


Sciatica Pain CausesSometimes sciatica  occurs because of compression on the nerve during pregnancy. Sciatica pain can also be caused from long-term carrying of an oversized wallet on one side of the hip. This would cause compression upon the nerve and result in sciatica pain.


A herniated disk, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or other abnormalities of vertebrae can all cause pressure on the sciatic nerve.   Sciatica pain may also result from the piriformis muscle located deep in the buttocks, pinching the sciatic nerve. This is known as piriformis syndrome and usually develops after an injury or overuse. It can be difficult to diagnose.

Sciatica Piriformis SyndromePiriformis syndrome has been estimated to cause 6% of sciatica, but recent studies show that it is most likely more common. This is due to electrodiagnostic and imaging techniques. It has been underdiagnosed and undertreated.

A person with piriformis syndrome typically complains of sciatic pain, tenderness in the buttock, and more difficulty sitting than standing. The pain usually occurs from overuse or muscle strain such as overworking at a health club, athletics, heavy work, running, high-performance athletics such as tennis, fencing, pole-vaulting, or sitting for hours at a time, and physical trauma or accident.

How is sciatica treated?
Sciatica can be treated by the following methods:

  1. physical therapy
  2. ice pack
  3. elevation
  4. surgery for treatment of a herniated disc
  5. acupuncture
  6. massage
  7. yoga
  8. chiropractic adjustments
  9. pain medications


Many people choose to use drugs or injections to help manage severe pain.  Others have found that meditation, alternative therapies, and change of lifestyle are effective.  Always check with your trusted doctor or health care practitioner before engaging in a physical therapy or exercise program for sciatic. However, the following exercises might be used to treat back pain or sciatica.

Sciatica Back Pain Exercises

Yoga as been more successful than most other alternative therapies in helping those with back pain.  According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, entitled, “Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial 313 adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain were studied.  93 (60%) patients offered yoga attended at least 3 of the first 6 sessions and at least 3 other sessions. The yoga group had better back function at 3, 6, and 12 months than the usual care group.  Researchers concluded that “Offering a 12-week yoga program to adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care.”

Yoga Class SitIn a similar study also published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, 101 adults with low back pain were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group attended yoga classes and lessons; the second engaged in aerobics, weight training, and stretching; the third group read a self-help book about back pain.  After 12 weeks, those who took yoga could better perform daily activities requiring the back than those in the other two groups.  After 26 weeks, those who took yoga had less pain and better back function, and used fewer pain relievers than those in the other two groups.

In a study by L.M. Fishman entitled, “Yoga for Osteoporosis – A Pilot Study,” published in the 2009, Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, yoga practitioners working with 19 osteoporosis patients with an average age of 68, gained 0.76 and 0.93 points for spine and hips, respectively, on the T-scale when compared with controls (P =.01). Five patients with osteopenia were reclassified as normal; 2 patients with osteoporosis are now osteopenic. There were no injuries. Fishman concluded that yoga appears to be an effective way to build bone mineral density after menopause and that the study supported the hypothesis that practicing yoga for as little as 8 to 10 minutes daily will raise T-scale ranking in older patients.

More research is needed to determine whether these alternative therapies are helpful for sciatica pain.  Check with your trusted doctor or health care provider before started a new regimen.

L.M. Fishman,  “Yoga for Osteoporosis – A Pilot Study,” Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 244–250, 2009

Helen E. Tilbrook, BSc, MSc; Helen Cox, and others, “Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial” Annals of Internal Medicine, 1 November 2011, Vol 155, No. 9


Jean E. DartThis article is written by Jean Voice Dart,  M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University.
  Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.”  She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance.  The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3  nonprofit health and wellness education organization.  For more information about  the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at

Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.

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