Sciatica is a medical condition characterized by pain going down the leg from the lower back. This pain may go down the back, outside, or front of the leg. Onset is often sudden following activities like heavy lifting, though gradual onset may also occur. The pain is often described as shooting. Typically, symptoms are only on one side of the body. Certain causes, however, may result in pain on both sides.Lower back pain is sometimes present. Weakness or numbness may occur in various parts of the affected leg and foot.
Initial treatment typically involves pain medications. It is generally recommended that people continue with normal activity to the best of their abilities. Often all that is required for sciatica resolution is time; in about 90% of people symptoms resolve in less than six weeks. If the pain is severe and lasts for more than six weeks, surgery may be an option. While surgery often speeds pain improvement, its long term benefits are unclear. Surgery may be required if complications occur, such as loss of normal bowel or bladder function. Many treatments, including steroids, gabapentin, pregabalin, acupuncture, heat or ice, and spinal manipulation, have limited or poor evidence for their use.
Depending on how it is defined, less than 1% to 40% of people have sciatica at some point in time. It is most common during people's 40s and 50s, and men are more frequently affected than women. The condition has been known since ancient times. The first known use of the word sciatica dates from 1451.
The term "sciatica" usually describes a symptom—pain along the sciatic nerve pathway—rather than a specific condition, illness, or disease. Some use it to mean any pain starting in the lower back and going down the leg. Others use the term as a diagnosis (i.e. an indication of cause and effect) for nerve dysfunction caused by compression of one or more lumbar or sacral nerve roots from a spinal disc herniation. Pain typically occurs in the distribution of a dermatome and goes below the knee to the foot. It may be associated with neurological dysfunction, such as weakness and numbness. The pain is characteristically described as shooting or shock-like, quickly traveling along the course of the affected nerves.