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Category: Neurology | Rheumatology

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Sciatica overview

Published: April 03, 2010. Updated: April 03, 2010

Sciatica is a pain in the leg due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain generally goes from the front of the thigh to the back of the calf, and may also extend upward to the hip and down to the foot. In addition to pain, there may be numbness and difficulty moving or controlling the leg.

Causes of sciatica

The most common cause of sciatica is a “slipped disc” (a herniated disc in the spine). Other conditions that can cause or aggravate sciatica include roughening and enlarging of the vertebrae, tension in the piriformis muscle, infections, and tumors.

Symptoms and signs

The pain is usually shooting and electric like. It can also burn like fire or tingle. The pain can range from slightly annoying to totally unbearable. Some people have pain in one part of the leg and numbness in another part of the same leg.

  • The pain is usually worse with both prolonged sitting and standing. Some people describe the worst pain when trying to stand from a low sitting position, such as standing up after sitting on a toilet seat.
  • In most people, the pain is made worse by sneezing, coughing, laughing, or a hard bowel movement.
  • There may be an associated weakness in the leg or foot, along with the pain.


Most cases of sciatica can be effectively treated by physical therapy and appropriate changes in environment (for example cushioning, or chair and desk height).


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