FAQs on Sciatica and Radiculopathy from top pain clinics in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler

Sciatica, also called radiculopathy, is the medical term used to describe an irritation or pressure on the sciatic nerve. This is often related to a bulging or herniated disc in the lumbar (lower back) spine. This condition affects thousands of individuals every year.

What is the sciatic nerve?

The sciatic nerve arises between the vertebrae (spinal bones) and is a collection of several nerve roots. This nerve descends from the low back under the buttock muscles down to the legs and feet. Irritation or pressure on this nerve leads to a complex of symptoms, such as radiating, sharp, burning pain, as well as numbness and tingling.

Who is most at risk for sciatica and radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy and sciatica most often affect people who are between 30 and 50 years of age.

What causes sciatica and radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is the term used when one or more intervertebral discs herniate or protrude and put pressure on a nerve root of the lower back. When herniated disc material compresses or comes in contact with an exiting nerve root, it will produce symptoms. This condition is also caused by spinal canal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and spondylolisthesis. Herniated discs often occur when the disc dry out and become weak due to aging and degeneration.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Patients have different symptoms with sciatica. Some people experience severe, debilitating pain, whereas others only have mild discomfort. The pain of sciatica can come and go, and it usually radiates from the lower back into the buttocks, and is perceived down the leg. Many patients also have calf and/or foot pain. Other symptoms of sciatica include burning or tingling down the leg, pain in the buttocks or leg that is worse with sitting, leg pain, and weakness, numbness, and/or difficulty moving the leg/foot.

How is sciatica treated?

For pain relief, the doctor may use several treatment options in combination. These options include:


Medications – The treatment for sciatica includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and ketoprofen, as well as oral steroids short-term. Antidepressants are used for pain relief, and muscle relaxants alleviate muscle spasms. For severe pain, the doctor may prescribe analgesics, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone.


Epidural steroid injection (ESI) – An epidural steroid injection involves injecting the epidural space (between the spinal cord and epidural layer) with a corticosteroid agent. The steroidal agent will decrease inflammation of the nerve root. Sometimes, the doctor adds a long-acting anesthetic for long-term pain relief. This procedure has a 90% efficacy rate, according to research studies.


Facet joint injections (FJIs) – These procedures involve placing small needles into the tiny facet joints that run along the back of the spine. The doctor injects a long-acting anesthetic onto the nerves, and sometimes, a corticosteroid is added. This procedure improves spinal movement and flexibility, as well as alleviates discomfort. Clinical studies show that FJIs offer both short- and long-term pain relief.


Physical therapy – A physical therapist will work with the patient to alleviate the pain associated with sciatica, as well as improve back strength and flexibility. The therapist also uses electrical stimulation, ultrasound, massage, and heat/cold therapy.