Sciatica causes

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the feet, becomes irritated or compressed. While it typically improves within 4 to 6 weeks, in some cases, it can last longer. Here’s how to check if you have sciatica and ways to alleviate the pain:

Symptoms of sciatica may include:

  • Pain in the bottom, back of the leg, foot, and toes (stabbing, burning, or shooting pain)
  • Tingling sensation (like pins and needles)
  • Numbness
  • Weakness

Symptoms may worsen with movement, sneezing, or coughing. It’s possible to experience accompanying back pain, but it’s usually not as severe as the pain felt in the bottom, leg, or foot.

To ease the pain and speed up recovery, you can:


  • Continue with your regular activities as much as possible.
  • Perform regular exercises for sciatica.
  • Engage in gentle exercise as soon as you can, as movement can aid recovery.
  • Apply heat packs to the painful areas (available at pharmacies).
  • Consult your pharmacist regarding painkillers (note that paracetamol may not provide relief, and the effectiveness of NSAIDs for sciatica is unclear).
  • Place a small, firm cushion between your knees when sleeping on your side, or several firm pillows under your knees when lying on your back.


  • Avoid sitting or lying down for extended periods. Even if movement is uncomfortable, it is not harmful and can facilitate faster recovery.
  • Refrain from using hot water bottles to alleviate the pain, as numbness in the skin can lead to scalding.

Non-urgent advice: Consult a GP if:

  • The pain persists despite trying home treatments for a few weeks.
  • The pain worsens.
  • The pain prevents you from carrying out your normal activities.

Immediate action required: Visit the A&E or call 999 if:

  • You have sciatica on both sides.
  • You experience severe or worsening weakness or numbness in both legs.
  • You have numbness around or under your genitals or around your anus.
  • You find it difficult to start or control urination, which is abnormal for you.
  • You are unable to notice the need to defecate or control bowel movements, which is abnormal for you.

These symptoms could indicate a serious back problem requiring immediate treatment at a hospital.

Treatment options from a GP may include:

  • Suggesting exercises and stretches.
  • Prescribing painkillers.
  • Referring you for physiotherapy, which may include exercise advice and manual therapy (massage).
  • Providing psychological support to help cope with the pain.

If the pain is severe and GP treatments are ineffective, a specialist at a hospital may be recommended for:

  • Painkilling injections.
  • A procedure to block pain signals by sealing off some of the nerves in your back.
  • Decompression surgery, which can sometimes alleviate sciatica.

To prevent future episodes of sciatica, consider: Do:

  • Stay physically active and engage in regular exercise.
  • Use proper lifting techniques when handling heavy objects.
  • Maintain good posture while sitting and standing.
  • Ensure correct sitting posture when using a computer.
  • Lose weight if overweight.


  • Avoid smoking, as it can increase the risk of developing sciatica.

Causes of sciatica may include:

  • Slipped disc (most common cause) – when the soft tissue cushion between spinal bones protrudes.
  • Spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal where nerves pass through.
  • Spondylolisthesis – displacement of a spinal bone from its position.
  • Back injury.