Sciatica is a word commonly used to mean shooting pain down the leg, often the back of the leg. It is understood by most people to mean pain that follows the path of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that forms low in the back and travels down through the buttock and leg. Usually sciatica only affects one side of the body, although this depends on the cause. Pain that is felt along the path of a nerve is termed Radicular pain.
Sciatica can result from irritation of the nerve at any level. This can include the nerve root, where the it emerges from the spine and where disc herniation (slipped disc) or facet joint degeneration (hypertrophy) can cause irritation. It can also result from issues lower down, for instance if the nerve is pinched as it passes through muscle layers, such as in the Piriformis syndrome.
Sciatica often resolves, but the duration and intensity of symptoms can be considerable, depending on the cause.
The first approach should be a clinical assessment, potentially including imaging, to make a diagnosis and identify any cause. Slipped discs (disc herniations) are frequently found. Disc injuries can often repair themselves (see article link below). Exercising and stretching can help cope with symptoms while this happens but often limited courses of specialist medication, or therapies such as Dorsal Root Ganglion injection may additionally assist while the healing occurs. Surgery to remove part of the disc is sometimes an option and can be discussed during the assessment.