The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


What is sciatica?

“Sciatica” is the name of a type of pain which radiates from the low back down the leg. “Sciatica” is named after the sciatic nerve, but it is rarely caused by injury to that nerve itself.

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It serves most of the leg and includes both motor and sensory fibers. It begins near the base of the spine, where it is formed from small nerve roots. Each nerve root exits the spine in front of one of the lumbar discs. “Sciatica” pain develops when one of the discs bulges, and pushes against or pinches one of the nerve roots. The pain is usually described as sharp and stabbing. It usually shoots to the foot following the path of the sciatic nerve.

Until recently, it was believed that bed rest would help patients with sciatica. New research, however, shows that bed rest does not usually help sciatica.

Back and leg pain, which is unrelenting or associated with numbness and weakness, should prompt a phone call to your doctor. Sometimes medication, gentle exercise, or chiropractic care may relieve the pain. Pain blocks can sometimes speed recovery. Surgery is rarely needed, especially if good medical care is obtained promptly. 



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Last modified: 07/27/08