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. 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 but not always present. Weakness or numbness may occur in various parts of the affected leg and foot.
Treatment initially is typically with pain medications. It is generally recommended that people continue with activities to the best of their abilities. Often all that is required is time: in about 90% of people the problem goes away in less than six weeks. If the pain is severe and lasts for more than six weeks then surgery may be an option. While surgery often speeds pain improvement, long term benefits are unclear. Surgery may be required if complications occur such as bowel or bladder problems. Many treatments, including steroids, gabapentin, acupuncture, heat or ice, and spinal manipulation, have poor evidence for their use.
Depending on how it is defined, 2% 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., a indication of cause and effect)—specifically, a 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. The pain is characteristically of a shooting type, quickly traveling along the course of the nerve.