Advice and information for patients

Sciatica is the name given to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, usually causing low back pain, buttock or hip pain, and pain down the back of the leg.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

The main symptoms of sciatica include: 

  • Pain in the low back and buttock radiating into one or both legs, sometimes as far as the foot
  • Tingling, pins and needles sometimes with numbness in the leg or foot

The pain may be position or activity dependent. Some people also experience weakness in the leg.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica is caused by compression or irritation to a nerve root. The nerve root is the name given to the segment of the nerve as it comes off the central spine cord. 

The most common causes are:

  • A bulging disc (also referred to as a 'slipped disc') – the bulge can press on the nerve root
  • Spinal stenosis - narrowing of the 'tunnel' the nerve root passes through
  • Injury to soft tissues, such as muscles or ligaments – this can cause inflammation around the nerve root which can irritate the nerves. 

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made from the history and a simple examination. An MRI scan may be advised if symptoms aren't improving.

How can I manage my sciatica?

The good news is that the majority of people with sciatica recover within six weeks with advice, exercise and education.


Sedentary and inactive lifestyles increase the risk of developing pain in your back and can also delay your recovery. Being active for 30 minutes in your day can make a big difference in your overall health and improve your pain.


Further management options

If there is no response to the self-management information above within four to six weeks, seek further advice from your physiotherapist or GP.