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Pain felt down the back and outer side of the thigh. The usual cause is a herniated disk, which is pressing on a nerve root. NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

About Sciatica

Many people have low back pain that keeps on coming back. Often, an exact cause cannot be determined and the pain goes away on its own after a few days or a couple of weeks. But if you have low back pain that extends further down through your leg and into your foot, it may be a sign of a slipped disk, or "herniated disk". This kind of pain, which extends into the extremities, is called sciatica. A slipped disk does not always cause symptoms, however.

Sciatica can be very unpleasant. But the good news is that if a slipped disk is in fact causing the pain, symptoms usually subside in less than six weeks on their own in 90 out of 100 people with this problem. If the pain lasts longer than six weeks, it is less and less likely that it will go away on its own or that non-surgical treatment will be any help. Surgery may then be an option depending on the circumstances... Read more about Sciatica

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

The clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and economic model

Bibliographic details: Lewis R, Williams N, Matar HE, Din N, Fitzsimmons D, Phillips C, Jones M, Sutton A, Burton K, Nafees S, Hendry M, Rickard I, Chakraverty R, Wilkinson C.  The clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and economic model. Health Technology Assessment 2011; 15(39): 1-44022078311

Magnetic resonance imaging for diagnosing lumbar spinal pathology in adult patients with low back pain or sciatica: a diagnostic systematic review

PURPOSE: In about 5% of all cases LBP is associated with serious underlying pathology requiring diagnostic confirmation and directed treatment. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often used for this diagnostic purpose yet its role remains controversial. Consequently, this review aimed to summarize the available evidence on the diagnostic accuracy of MRI for identifying lumbar spinal pathology in adult low back pain (LPB) or sciatica patients.

Computed tomography for the diagnosis of lumbar spinal pathology in adult patients with low back pain or sciatica: a diagnostic systematic review

AIM: In low back pain if serious pathology is suspected diagnostic imaging could be performed. One of the imaging techniques available for this purpose is computed tomography (CT), however, insight in the diagnostic performance of CT is unclear.

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Summaries for consumers

Botulinum toxin injections as a treatment for low‐back pain and sciatica

Back pain is a common symptom affecting roughly 50% of the population every year. For the majority of people, back pain goes away gradually ‐ usually within several weeks.

Advice to rest in bed versus advice to stay active for acute low‐back pain and sciatica

Low‐back pain (LBP) is one of the most common conditions managed in primary care and a significant cause of absence from work and early retirement. Individuals, their families and society at large all carry part of the burden.

Slipped disk: Non-surgical treatment options

Most people with a slipped disk are offered “conservative” treatment, meaning that the treatment does not involve surgery. This mainly involves exercise, relaxation and positioning, painkillers or local anesthetics, and manual and physical therapy.A slipped disk does not always cause symptoms, but it may cause severe back pain. A slipped disk in the lumbar vertebrae can press on the sciatic nerve and cause pain that often extends through one leg and down into the foot. Most people recover from a slipped disk within six weeks without treatment. Until then there a number of treatment options that aim to help relieve the pain and improve mobility.

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Terms to know

Herniated Disc (Slipped Disk)
A potentially painful problem in which the hard outer coating of the disk is damaged, allowing the disk's jelly-like center to leak and cause irritation to adjacent nerves.
Intervertebral Disc (Spinal Disk)
A circular piece of cushioning tissue situated between each vertebrae of the spine. Each disk has a strong outer cover and a soft jelly-like filling.
Lumbar Spine
The lower portion of the spine. The lumbar spine comprises five vertebrae.
A bundle of fibers that receives and sends messages between the body and the brain. The messages are sent by chemical and electrical changes in the cells that make up the nerves.
Sciatic Nerve
A nerve which originates in the spinal cord. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It has two major branches, the tibial nerve and the peroneal nerve.

More about Sciatica

Photo of an adult

Also called: Lumbar radiculopathy, Sciatic neuralgia, Sciatic neuritis

Other terms to know: See all 5
Herniated Disc (Slipped Disk), Intervertebral Disc (Spinal Disk), Lumbar Spine

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