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What is it?

Sciatica refers to a type of pain that runs from your lower back down the back of one leg, sometimes into the foot and toes. It's caused by pressure or irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the spinal cord through the buttocks and down the back of each leg.


Sciatica is commonly caused by a herniated spinal disk (sometimes called a slipped disk) that presses on the sciatic nerve. A spinal disk becomes "herniated" when the gel-like center of the disk protrudes through the disk's outer lining. It can also be caused by trauma from a car crash or fall, a tumor, injury to the sciatic nerve, or other conditions that put pressure on the nerve.


Common signs and symptoms of sciatica include:


* pain on one side of your buttocks or leg that worsens when you sit or stand for long periods, or when you sneeze, cough, or laugh


* burning or tingling feelings in your leg, foot, or toes


* weakness, numbness, or trouble moving your leg or foot


* shooting pain that makes standing up hard.



Some patients with sciatica may suddenly lose bladder or bowel control. If this happens, contact your healthcare provider immediately because it's a sign of a rare but serious condition that needs emergency care.


How is sciatica treated?

Your healthcare provider will discuss the best treatment for your sciatica, depending on your condition. Usually, it can be treated with over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Avoid bending, lifting, or sitting in a low, soft chair. Alternating cold packs and dry heat from a heating pad may help ease pain.


Staying in bed for long periods can make sciatica worse, so try to stay active. Stretching exercises for your lower back, as directed by your healthcare provider, can help relieve pressure on your sciatic nerve. Walking, yoga, and pilates are good exercises for sciatica.


If these don't help, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines such as corticosteroids that are injected into the affected area, muscle relaxants, or opioids to manage pain. If you have a herniated disk, the healthcare provider may prescribe physical therapy. Surgery may be needed if severe pain persists for more than a few months or if you lose bowel or bladder control.


How can I prevent sciatica?


* Exercise regularly. Exercises that focus on your core muscles-those in your lower back and abdomen-can help prevent sciatica by supporting your back. Stretching exercises can help you keep flexibility and muscle tone. Your healthcare provider or physical therapist can help create an exercise program that's right for you.


* Watch your posture. Choose chairs with good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base. Place a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve when sitting. If you work at a computer, adjust your chair so your feet are flat on the floor and your arms rest on the chair's arms or the desk at a 90-degree angle.


* Be careful when lifting. If you have to lift something heavy, keep your back straight, bend your knees, and use your legs to lift. Hold the load close to your body and avoid twisting and bending at the same time. Ask for help if something is too heavy to lift.


* Watch your weight. Maintaining a healthy weight within the recommended limits for your height can help you keep your back healthy. Excess weight can contribute to back problems.