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What is sciatica?

Sciatica is not a condition as such, but a symptom which can be caused by numerous conditions. It is also called ‘piriformis syndrome’. The common sciatica symptoms involve pain that starts in the back and radiates down one (or both) of the legs. It is quite a common complaint and sciatica pain is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve which runs down into the leg. The medical term is acute nerve root compression or radiculopathy.

The cause of pressure can be varied from a slipped disc (also known as a herniated or prolapsed disc), disc degeneration to muscle tension (Piriformis syndrome) or something less common such as a tumors, bony growths (stenosis) and infections.

Sciatica Symptoms

  • Acute low back pain (not always present, especially in piriformis syndrome)
  • Pain radiating down the leg. This pain may be sharp and accompanied by pins and needles and / or numbness
  • Sciatica pain is often triggered by a minor movement such bending over to pick something up
  • Pain may be worse by sitting, lifting, coughing or sneezing
  • Pain is usually relieved by lying down, often on one side
  • Pain is often better in the morning after a nights rest
  • There may be muscle spasm in the lower back
  • Tenderness in the lower back when pressing in
  • Pain on the straight leg raise test which is not apparent when just stretching the hamstring only.


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