Back Pain and Sciatica Explained

By Ben Loomis – DSC_9441.jpg, CC BY 2.0,

Back pain is in all shapes and sizes. It may flare up immediately after injury or appear slowly and mysteriously over a period of months. It could be sudden and short-lived (acute) or long-lasting (chronic).

Over-the-counter medicines help with some types of back pain, but only potent drugs and surgery can fix others. Sometimes it’s hard to identify the source of your back pain, but sometimes you can find it easily. Sciatica is one of those that’s pretty easy to identify. Home remedies can work quickly, so you may not even have to call your doctor. Sciatica is a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, with a large nerve extending from the lower back to the back of each leg.

Sciatica usually only affects one side of the lower body. Often, the pain spreads from the lower back all the way through the back of the thigh and through the leg. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also spread to the foot or toes. For some people, sciatica pain may be severe and debilitating. For others, sciatica pain may be rare and irritating, but it has the potential to get worse.

What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the rear or leg that is worse when sitting
  • Hip pain
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear
  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up

How Sciatica Works

Sciatica usually begins in your lower (lower) lumbar spine with a herniated disk. Your vertebrae (the bones that make up your spine) are separated by flat, flexible, round disks of connective tissue. When a disk gets worn down — either due to injury or just years of use — its soft center can start pushing out of the hard outer ring.

When a disk herniates, the nerves around it can be pressured. When the sciatic nerve occurs, this can cause a lot of pain. The sciatic nerve is your body ‘s longest nerve. It begins in your lower back and divides into hips, buttocks, legs and feet. Bone spurs and back stenosis can also put pressure on the lower back of the sciatic nerve. If so, it can cause a great deal of trouble throughout the nerve.

Pain, from the lower back to the back or side or to your legs, is the most distinct indicator of sciatica. It can vary from mild to severe pain. In your leg and foot, you may also be numb, punchy, and weak.

Risk Factors

Age – Most people are between 30 and 50 years of age who get sciatica.

Extra pounds – Extra pounds can pressure your spine so you can have a herniated disk for people who are overweight and pregnant women.

Diabetes – Nerve damage may be caused by diabetes.

Job – A lot of heavy lifts or extended sitting can cause disk damage.


In a few weeks without surgery, most people with sciatica improve. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen ( Advil) and naproxen ( Aleve) can be of use to alleviate pain, but should just be a short-term solution.

Your physician may also advise to put cold packages for a few days on your lower back, and then move to hot packages a few days later. Also for lower back and sciatic pain relief, there are a lot of good tracks.

Your first instinct may be to rest and take it easier, but it’s more important to keep moving. When you are still sitting, the nerve is still irritated. Keeping in movement reduces inflammation.

If home remedies do not work, your doctor is likely to recommend stronger medication, such as inflammatory drugs or relaxing muscles. Steroids, physical therapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic care could also be tested.

It may be time to have an operation if your pain lasts longer than 3 months. Check with your doctor immediately for serious pain and weakness, stomach and bladder or bowel loss.

Are You Looking for Relief From Back and Sciatica? 

Pace Physical Therapy in San Jose, California specializes in back pain and sciatica relief and recovery therapies.  We pride ourselves on offering the best possible physical therapy available and going above and beyond for our patients. Our highly experienced physical therapist will work with you to improve your function and relieve your pain. We start by assessing the body as a whole. Oftentimes the cause of pain or an injury extends far beyond just the body part or muscle hurting. Without taking a comprehensive look at your entire self, we would be doing you a disservice in fully helping you heal and preventing future limitations. We then move on to fixing your areas of limitation.  Not all diagnoses are created equal. One person with low back pain may have completely different limitations than the next person. Your recovery program needs to be specific to what YOUR body needs and not just the typical exercise program that you can find online to and-aid the real issue. Just because your pain decreases or you can walk longer doesn’t mean that it is enough to get you functioning at the level you want to be. While this often signifies the end of care at your typical PT clinic we don’t stop providing guidance until we help you successfully meet every goal you set for yourself with us on day one. Contact us today to schedule your appointment!