Sciatica


The sciatic nerves are the largest nerves in your body. They exit from your backbone, extend down from the lower back, one on each side, through the hips and buttocks, all the way down the leg. When anything compresses either one of them, it becomes inflamed (chemical reaction to irritation or injury) and produces pain in the lower back which shoots down the respective leg. This is known as ‘Sciatica’ and typically it would affect only one side of your body.

Most commonly, a herniated disk is responsible for causing sciatica. Your spine is made of multiple bones (vertebrae) vertically stacked upon each other, like a pile of boxes, with rubbery cushions (disks) between the individual bones. Herniation is when a disk slips out of place and presses on the surrounding nerve(s). Other causes of sciatica include:

  • A bony outgrowth from spinal bone (known as bone spur)

  • Abscess

  • Blood clot

  • Backbone disorders (spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis) 

  • Tumour 

  • Piriformis syndrome – prolonged contraction of a deep muscle in the buttocks 

  • Poor posture/prolonged sitting

Consequently we can say that aging is a risk factor, as a herniated disk and bone spur are age-related changes in your backbone. Obesity and diabetes also elevate chances of sciatica. When lifting heavy objects, it is imperative that you use your leg/thigh muscle instead of putting strain on your back. Forces on your backbone are exaggerated if you try to twist while lifting something large and heavy, again leading to disk herniation.​

A constant aching pain or sharp burning sensation that shoots down one of your legs like an electric shock, possibly all the way to your toes, is the primary symptom. Some describe it as a burning or tingling ("pins and needles") feeling.

It may develop gradually or pop up suddenly; varying from a mild cramp to excruciating pain. Prolonged sitting, sneezing or coughing can aggravate the pain. In severe cases, you may experience weakness or numbness of any part of your legs. 

It is best to get an appointment with the Musculoskeletal and Sports Medicine Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital if you ever notice such type of pain. Getting appropriate assistance at the right time will count towards a better outcome and prevent permanent nerve damage. 

You can also consult the Family Health Services for continuous screenings or a preliminary examination.

However, at any time if you come across the following complaints, seek immediate medical attention at the earliest and do not hesitate to consult the 24/7 Emergency and Acute Care Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital:

  • The pain occurs after a rough injury (like a traffic accident)

  • Loss of feeling in the ‘saddle’ region (inner thighs, back of legs and area around rectum)

  • Weakness or numbness in the affected leg 

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

  • Tingly feeling in leg​

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so makes sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.

It is vital for your health care provider to go through some questions relevant to your complaints and a physical examination for optimal assessment. During your evaluation, you may be asked to perform certain movements that will allow your doctor to pinpoint the root of the disorder. One of these might be the ‘straight leg raising test’. This is a common test done with the patient lying on straight on the bed and raising each leg one at a time. ​

According to your symptoms and the initial judgment, further investigation may be required: 

  • X-ray

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan

  • Electromyography and nerve conduction studies – electrical impulses in the nerves and muscles are recorded and analyzed through thin needles connected to wires.  

  • Myelogram – imaging of the backbone after a dye is injected​

Your doctor will attend to you with commitment and discuss the best possible treatments. Here are some options:

  • Heat/cold therapy

  • Painkillers (oral/local application) 

  • Physiotherapy

  • Steroid injections 

  • Surgery to relieve the compression on the nerve

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

 The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

 The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage



The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.