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Sciatica features pain that runs from the lower back or buttocks down the back of the leg. Caused by compression on the sciatic nerve, which runs from the center of the lower back down the back of the leg to the calf muscle, the pain can be intense and long-lasting. Fortunately, many different kinds of doctors can treat sciatica.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
For most cases of sciatica, which are simple compressions of the sciatic nerve by either lower back muscles or disks in the back, a family doctor can treat the problem. Most general cases of sciatica resolve themselves on their own; doctors will occasionally prescribe exercise and anti-inflammatory medications to help with the pain. A family doctor is a good place to start regardless of how serious the sciatica is, because if it is a complicated case, he or she will be able to refer a patient to a specialist.
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Orthopedic surgeons are a popular choice for treatment of sciatica, mostly because they regularly treat lower back pain and problems of the spine 3. For cases of sciatica that do not resolve quickly on their own, or cases that do not respond to exercise and mild pain medicine, an orthopedic surgeon is a good option 3. He will have expertise in management of the pain and in handling the lower back issues that may be causing the sciatica.
Patients with complicated cases of sciatica that feature compression because of nerve problems seek treatment from a neurologist, or a specialist in the nervous system. Neurologists have specialized training in problems affecting the body's nerves, so complex cases of sciatica--frequently ones that do not relate to lower back pain--frequently get referred to them for treatment.
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Sciatica that does not respond to non-surgical treatment, or cases of sciatica that stem from complicated problems, such as rare circumstances when the sciatic nerve threads through the pelvis the wrong way, are good cases to take to a neurosurgeon. Like orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons receive specialized training in surgical techniques to solve problems. Whereas orthopedic surgeons focus on problems of the musculoskeletal system (such as the lower back), neurosurgeons train to solve problems of the brain, spine and nervous system with surgical procedures 3.
Another option for treatment of sciatica is to visit a chiropractor. Although not a medical doctor, chiropractors receive special training in the manipulation of the back and spine in order to manage or treat back pain. Since most cases of sciatica result from compression in the lower back, a chiropractor is another option for non-surgical treatment.
- Another option for treatment of sciatica is to visit a chiropractor.
- Since most cases of sciatica result from compression in the lower back, a chiropractor is another option for non-surgical treatment.
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- Sciatica -- NIH Medical Encyclopedia
- Sciatica -- American Medical Association
- Sciatica -- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
- Davis D, Maini K, Vasudevan A. Sciatica. [Updated 2020 Jan 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507908/
- Giuffre BA, Jeanmonod R. Anatomy, Sciatic Nerve. [Updated 2020 Mar 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482431/
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. Updated August 13, 2019. ninds.nih.gov
- Verwoerd AJH, Mens J, El Barzouhi A, Peul WC, Koes BW, Verhagen AP. A diagnostic study in patients with sciatica establishing the importance of localization of worsening of pain during coughing, sneezing and straining to assess nerve root compression on MRI. Eur Spine J. 2016;25(5):1389–1392. doi:10.1007/s00586-016-4393-8
- Koes BW, van Tulder MW, Peul WC. Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ. 2007;334(7607):1313–1317. doi:10.1136/bmj.39223.428495.BE
- Chen MR, Wang P, Cheng G, Guo X, Wei GW, Cheng XH. The warming acupuncture for treatment of sciatica in 30 cases. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2009 29(1):50-3.
- Lawrence DJ, Meeker W, Branson R, Bronfort G, Cates JR, Haas M, Haneline M, Micozzi M, Updyke W, Mootz R, Triano JJ, Hawk C. Chiropractic management of low back pain and low back-related leg complaints: a literature synthesis. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2008 31(9):659-74. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2008.10.007
- Bell J. Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2008 12(3):281-9. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2008.01.006
Matt Browning has been writing about health, science, food and travel since 1990. His career has spanned advocacy, medical communications and public relations and his stories have won awards from the Virginia Press Association. Browning earned a Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature from the University of Virginia.