If you suddenly start feeling pain in your lower back or hip that radiates down your buttock to the back of your thigh and into your leg, you may have what's called "sciatica." Sciatica is not a disorder in and of itself, but rather a symptom from another problem involving the sciatic nerve.

Anything that places pressure on one or more of the lumbar nerve roots, such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or other abnormalities of vertebrae, can cause pain in parts or all of the sciatic nerve.

What to Do

Visit your doctor for a physical exam to pinpoint the irritated nerve root. Your doctor may ask you to squat and rise, walk on your heels and toes, or perform a straight-leg raising test or other tests. Most patients with sciatica have compression of the L5 or S1 nerve roots. X-rays and other specialized imaging tools such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may confirm your doctor's diagnosis of which nerve roots are affected.

Treatment of Sciatica

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 80 to 90 percent of patients with sciatica get better over time without surgery. Most of the time, if you follow appropriate self-care guidelines, the condition goes away in a few weeks.

Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage and Relieve Sciatica

Problem: Sedentary Lifestyle.  People who do not exercise regularly face an increased risk for low back injury, especially when they perform sudden, stressful activities such as shoveling, digging, or moving heavy items. Lack of exercise leads to the following conditions that may threaten the back: Stiff muscles can make it hard to move, rotate, and bend the back; weak stomach muscles can increase the strain on the back and cause an abnormal tilt of the pelvis; weak back muscles may increase the risk for disk compression.

Lifestyle Solution: Get Regular ExerciseWalking, swimming, bicycling, and yoga are excellent choices. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 5 times a week. 

Problem: Poor Eating Habits & Obesity. Obesity puts more weight on the spine and increases pressure on the vertebrae and disks.

Lifestyle Solution: Healthy Foods Lifestyle. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid sugary snacks and carbohydrate-rich foods. Eat organic foods as often as possible.

Problem: Stress. Stress can cause your body to tense up and leave you with tight muscles and a limited range of motion. A tight body is more prone to back injury.

Lifestyle Solution: Stress-Management Techniques. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, massage, yoga, and Tai Chi are all great for stress management.

Problem: Smoking.  Studies have suggested that smokers are at higher risk for back problems, perhaps because smoking decreases blood circulation. The link may also be due to an unhealthy lifestyle in general.

Lifestyle Solution: Quit smoking. Enough said.sc

Problem: Heavy lifting on the job. Jobs that involve lifting, bending, and twisting into awkward positions place workers at particular risk for low back injury. The longer a person continues such a job, the higher the risk.

Lifestyle Solution: Body Awareness.  Use these tips for heavy lifting.

  • If an object is too heavy or awkward, get help.
  • Spread your feet apart to give a wide base of support.
  • Stand as close as possible to the object being lifted.
  • Bend at the knees, not at the waist. As you move up and down, tighten stomach muscles and tuck buttocks in so that the pelvis is rolled under and the spine remains in a natural "S' curve. (Even when not lifting an object, always try to use this posture when stooping down.)
  • Hold objects close to the body to reduce the load on the back.
  • Lift using the leg muscles, not those in the back.
  • Stand up without bending forward from the waist.
  • Never twist from the waist while bending or lifting any heavy object. If you need to move an object to one side, point your toes in that direction and pivot toward it.
  • If an object can be moved without lifting, pull it, don't push.

Note: If you experience what feels like sciatica, contact your doctor for an evaluation.


"Sciatica." MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sciatica/DS00516. Web. 14 Apr. 2010.

"Sciatica." American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Web. 14 Apr. 2010. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00351

Sherman K.J., Cherkin D.C., Erro J., et al. "Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized, Controlled Trial." Annals of Internal Med. 143 (2005). 849-856.

Simon, Harvey. (rev.) "Back Pain and Sciatica - Lifestyle Changes." Health Central. 26 Apr. 2006. http://www.healthcentral.com/chronic-pain/back-pain-and-sciatica-000054_4-145.html. Web. 14 Apr. 2010.