The term sciatica literally means that a patient has leg pain from compression on the sciatic nerve. The diagnosis is what is causing the compression (such as a disc herniation in the low back). Sciatica is used to describe pain in the lower back, in the rear, down the back of the leg, and maybe even into the foot, usually only on one side of the body, Sciatica could also be accompanied by numbness, tingling and burning/prickling. Severity of sciatic pain can range from infrequent and irritating to severe and debilitating, experienced as a shooting pain or a constant pain, usually most painful in the leg, which gets worse when sitting.

Many conditions feel like sciatica, but are treated differently Sciatica is often referred to as any type of leg pain, but in fact there are many causes of leg pain that are not classified as sciatica and need to be treated differently. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed by a problem in the low back, thus sending pain from the sciatic nerve down to the buttock and sometimes down the back of the leg.However, many other problems can also cause pain down the leg, including:

Joint problems, such as arthritis, can also refer pain from the joints into the leg, but this is not sciatica and the treatment is different. For arthritis, the focus is on conservative (nonsurgical) treatments that preserve motion and reduce pain long term and usually include prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce joint inflammation.

Another cause of leg pain that can feel like sciatic pain is sacroiliac joint dysfunction. The sacroiliac joint is at the very base of the spine, and too much motion or too little motion in this joint can cause pain that radiates down the leg like sciatica. Treatment is usually non-surgical and focuses on restoring normal motion in the joint.