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Sciatica occurs when there is damage to or pressure on the sciatic nerve, which causes nerve pain. The sciatic nerve starts in the low back and runs down the back or side of the leg.

Sciatica: what you should know

  • Sciatica symptoms include a burning or tingling pain that extends from the low spine down the back or side of the leg. It is frequently worse after sitting. 
  • Causes of sciatica include a herniated disc, spinal tumor, spinal stenosis or a pelvic fracture.
  • Different types of back pain require different treatments. Stretches that relieve one kind of pain could intensify another. Spine and back specialists like those at Rush can help you identify the right approach.

How can I get help for sciatica?

Call your primary care doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control with the pain
  • Pain that is worse when you cough or sneeze
  • Pain that wakes you up during sleep
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs
  • Pain not relieved within a couple weeks by rest, ice or heat, or over-the-counter medications

Care for sciatica at Rush

If your primary care doctor recommends you receive further testing and evaluation to determine the cause of your sciatica, Rush has specialists who can help.

Nonsurgical treatments: Pain Medicine physicians at Rush first try nonsurgical methods for sciatic nerve pain relief:

  • Stretching or physical therapy
  • Medication (taken by mouth)
  • Spinal injections (commonly called epidural steroid) of pain-relieving medication directly to the source of pain, with image guidance
  • Nutritional and exercise guidance if extra weight is a contributing factor

Surgical options: If your sciatica does not respond to nonsurgical treatments, surgery may be needed to address the underlying medical condition.

Spine surgeons at Rush specialize in minimally invasive and traditional approaches to back and spine surgery, including some of the following:

  • Discectomy: removes part of a disc from your spinal column. This surgery may be combined with one of the procedures below. At Rush, a disectomy is typically performed as an outpatient procedure and often does not involve a hospital stay.
  • Spinal fusion: a surgery in which two or more vertebrae are permanently joined together. Whenever possible, spine surgeons at Rush perform fusions using minimally invasive approaches that help you heal faster and with less pain.
  • Laminectomy: used to create more space for the nerves by removing the lamina (or roof) of one or more vertebrae. The procedure can be performed by itself or in combination with another procedure listed here.
  • Foraminotomy: performed to remove pressure from a nerve root by removing a small portion of bone around the affected nerve root. This may be performed by itself or in combination with a laminectomy or a discectomy.
  • Spinal cord stimulation: This involves blocking transmission of pain signals from the spine to the brain. Interventional pain management specialists perform these procedures, which typically can be performed with no surgical incision.

Why choose Rush for sciatica care

  • Rush is consistently ranked among the top U.S. hospitals for orthopedicsneurology and neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Spine surgeons at Rush offer an extensive range of minimally invasive techniques. These techniques enable you to have a major back procedure like a lumbar discectomy or spinal fusion with an incision smaller than a paper clip. That means you will typically experience less pain, a shorter hospital stay and a quicker recovery.

Departments and programs that treat this condition