Man with hurt back


Lower back pain affects almost everyone at some point in their life and for some people it could be a condition called sciatica. Sciatica, also known as lumbar radiculopathy, occurs when there is pain along the sciatic nerve, which is located in the buttock and posterior thigh. 

Often confused with hamstring pain, sciatica causes mild to excruciating pain in the lower back, buttock and back of one thigh. The pain may radiate all the way to the foot. In severe cases, it can also cause numbness and weakness. 

Sciatica causes and risk factors

Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated disc in the spine that results in inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve. 

Other causes may be:

  • An abscess (a localized infection in the body tissue)

  • Blood clot

  • Neuropathy

  • Obesity

  • Poor posture or sitting in awkward positions for an extended period

  • Tumor

Sciatica diagnosis

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, your doctor will use one or more of the following tests to determine if sciatica is the source of your pain:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—uses a large magnet, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed pictures of organs and structures inside your body.

  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)—a non-invasive diagnostic imaging procedure that combines X-ray and advanced computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices) of the spine. 

  • Myelogram—an invasive test that uses X-rays to examine the spinal cord and canal.

  • Electromyography (EMG)—a test that determines how your muscle responds when it is stimulated by a nerve. 

  • Nerve conduction test—evaluates how quickly a signal can travel down to a nerve. This test can find nerve compression or constriction. An EMG and a nerve conduction test are typically done at the same time. 

  • X-rays—an imaging test that can reveal several different problems within the spine.

Sciatica treatment 

Most people with sciatica do not require surgery. Depending on your specific needs, treatment methods could include:

  • Epidural steroid injections—a procedure where a steroid medication is injected into the spinal area.

  • Pain medication—medications that relieve discomfort, swelling and inflammation.

  • Physical therapy—exercises to strengthen and regain range of motion the affected area.  

For severe pain that doesn’t improve after 6 to 12 weeks, surgery may be required. Surgical options for sciatica include:

  • Laminectomy—a procedure to remove all or part of the vertebral arch, relieving pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.

  • Laminotomy— a procedure to remove a small portion of the vertebral arch to relieve pressure on the nerves.

  • Microdiscectomy—a minimally invasive surgical procedure to repair a disc in the lower back.

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our expert physicians and specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose and treat sciatica, so you can get back to enjoying life.

Find a sciatica specialist near you.