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Sciatica, sometimes referred to as lumbar radicular pain, is pain due to irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerves are a pair of large nerves that begin in the lower (lumbar) spine from a group of spinal nerve roots, and that pass through the hips and buttocks and down each leg. Sciatica may be due to compression and/or inflammation of the nerve roots. Common underlying causes include a herniated disc (also known as a slipped or bulging disc), narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis), degenerative disc disease, and spinal trauma or injury.



There is no specific diagnostic test for sciatica. Diagnosis involves reviewing a patient’s symptoms and medical history and performing a physical examination. Diagnosis will include an evaluation of:

During physical examination, the doctor may test for possible lumbar disc herniation by conducting a “straight leg raise test”, testing for motor weakness by assessing knee and ankle reflexes, and testing for sensory loss by performing light touch and pin prick tests. Imaging is not usually performed unless symptoms persist for more than 12 weeks or worsen despite conservative treatment, or if serious underlying pathology is suspected. Imaging may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or discogram (to look for disc abnormalities).


In most cases, the pain resolves within 6 to 12 weeks with conservative treatment. Initial treatment aims to reduce the pain and maintain physical functioning. Conservative treatment options include:

**This information sheet has been written for patients affected by sciatica and provides general information only**

References: Australian Family Physician (2004; 33: 409-412, “Lumbar radicular pain”); Better Health Channel (Victoria Health);; Spine-Health; The BMJ (2019; 367: 16273, “Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica”).

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