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5 causes of sciatica
Sciatica isn’t actually a health condition; it’s a symptom, and a misnamed one at that. Sciatica refers to the symptoms of buttock, thigh, and leg pain, but it can arise from a variety of causes. Sciatica gets its name from the sciatic nerve, the body’s largest. There’s one sciatic nerve on either side of the body. Each nerve extends through the buttock and down the leg into the foot and toes. Yet the most common causes of sciatica don’t involve direct injury to a sciatic nerve itself, but rather to the nerves higher in the spine that join to form the sciatic nerve.
The right treatment for sciatica depends on the cause, such as a herniated disc, injury, or a pinched sciatic nerve in the buttocks. Sciatica can also happen in late pregnancy as ligaments get looser and the growing baby puts indirect pressure on the sciatic nerve.
For most people, home treatment may be all you need. Even if you don’t know what’s causing your sciatica, you can take steps to relieve your pain at home. For example:
- Move. A few days of rest is okay but ideally you want to move as much as you can as soon as you can. If moving seems to make the pain worse, it’s best to see a doctor and talk through what’s going on.
- Ice and heat. Ice is helpful for the first week. After that applying heat can help.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: Don’t take more than the recommended dose.
Although most sciatica gets better on its own, it’s sometimes prudent to visit the doctor to make sure your pain doesn’t have a more serious cause. An office visit is in order if
- you are under age 20 or older than 55 and having sciatica for the first time
- your symptoms are severe
- you have weakness in a leg or foot
- you have a fever in addition to your pain.
- you have a history of cancer
To learn more about ways to ease your sciatica pain, purchase Finding Relief for Sciatica from Harvard Health Publishing.
Image: fizkes/Getty Images
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No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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