Understanding Sciatica: Causes, types, and Treatment Options

By: Marie Serrado  

Ever felt a tingling, numbness, or weakness which travels down your leg? You might be dealing with Sciatica. Sciatica is pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve travels from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down each leg. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for sciatica to help you better understand and manage this condition.  

What is Sciatica?  

Sciatica is a nerve pain caused by an injury or irritation to the sciatic nerve (Clevalandclinic.org). Although Sciatica isn’t a medical condition itself but a symptom of an underlying issue. The Sciatic nerve isn’t just one nerve; it’s a bundle of five nerve roots. In our bodies, we have two sciatic nerves, and it’s one on each side. Having Sciatica means that you have either mild or severe pain anywhere that connects to the sciatic nerve. This means that with sciatica the pain can reach your lower back, hips, buttocks or legs, and you truly don’t know where the pain is affected unless it touches the sciatic nerve. The pain can manifest in different areas along the path of the sciatic nerve, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact source.  

What causes Sciatica pain?  

As we continue to learn more about Sciatica, what we also must understand is that not all lower back pain and pain that radiates through the lower body, can be categorized as sciatica. Sciatica occurs when an underlying medical condition causes pain, inflammation or irritation.   

Types of Sciatica  

The type of sciatica depends on the duration of symptoms. They can range from acute to bilateral. The different types of sciatica is:  

    1. Acute Sciatica: Acute Sciatica pain duration lasts from four to eight weeks and the pain can be treated with at home treatments, and it doesn’t require medical attention. The source of pain when it comes to acute sciatica can be from spinal joints, discs, nerves, or muscles and ligaments  
    2. Chronic Sciatica: Chronic Sciatica is a persistent pain, and can last up to 8 weeks. The issue with chronic sciatica is that at home treatments may not be enough to bring relief. With chronic sciatica it is best to seek professional help so that they may determine the best treatment option. With chronic sciatica, the pain can be felt at all times or worsen by doing certain activities. Some contributing factors can be:
        • Nerve Damage
        • Tissue Scarring
        • Arthritis
    3. Alternating Sciatica: Although this is a rare form of sciatica, Alternating Sciatica affects both legs alternatively. This may occur due to degeneration of the sacroiliac joints. Sacroiliac joints is (add definition here)  
    4. Bilateral Sciatica: Similar to how Alternating Sciatica is, Bilateral Sciatica affects both legs, but at the same time. This form of sciatica is also rare, but some factors that may contribute is degenerative changes in the vertebrae or disc.  
    5. Wallet Sciatica: Although this is a non-medical term, it does refer to when you have your wallet in your back pocket and its applying pressure to the sciatic nerve. You can always remove unnecessary items from your wallet or even put your wallet in your front pocket.  

 Understanding the different types of sciatica is essential for individuals experiencing symptoms, as it can guide them in making informed decisions about appropriate self-care or seeking professional medical assistance when needed.  

Treatment for Sciatica:  

Although there are a few different types of sciatica, it’s important to understand the treatment options for it. According to Penn Medicine, “As sciatica is a symptom of a more specific medical condition, the underlying cause should be identified and treated. 

In some cases, no treatment is required and recovery occurs on its own… 

Conservative (non-surgical) treatment is best in many cases. Your provider may recommend the following steps to calm your symptoms and reduce inflammation”. This means that when dealing with sciatica, it’s crucial to focus on addressing the underlying medical condition that is causing the symptoms. While some cases of sciatica may resolve without treatment, it is often advisable to pursue conservative, non-surgical treatments to alleviate symptoms and reduce inflammation. These steps prioritize patients’ comfort and well-being while targeting the root cause of their sciatic pain, ultimately promoting a faster and more effective recovery.  

Some treatments for sciatica depend on the severity of the condition, if it’s non surgical treatment, where the pain is only mild then you can do at-home treatment, to help alleviate the pain. Such as:  

  1. Taking over the counter pain relievers such as Ibuprofen, (Advil, Motrin IB) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol).  
  2. Apply heat or Ice in painful areas. Try Ice for the first 48-72 hours, then apply heat.  

Now, if the pain is not mild and it creates discomfort or even overbearing, then your medical provider may suggest a Physical Therapist, as they can help with creating a treatment plan. Nerve pain may be very difficult to treat. Although you can get surgery for the pain, it is usually a last resort.  


In conclusion, sciatica serves as a vital signal from our bodies, indicating an underlying medical condition that demands attention. Understanding the various types of sciatica and their respective durations can help individuals make informed choices regarding their treatment. Whether it’s acute or chronic, unilateral or bilateral, or even caused by an everyday item like a wallet, the key takeaway is that identifying the source of the pain and pursuing appropriate care, which may include conservative treatments, can lead to relief and a path towards recovery. It’s always wise to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for managing sciatica and improving overall well-being. 


  1. Sciatica . Pennmedicine.org. (n.d.). https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/sciatica#:~:text=Sciatica%20refers%20to%20pain%2C%20weakness,a%20medical%20condition%20by%20itself  
  2. professional, C. C. medical. (n.d.). Sciatica: Putting pain and other symptoms behind you. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12792-sciatica  
  3. Spine, M. B. &. (n.d.). Mayfield Brain & Spine. Sciatica, shooting leg pain | Cincinnati, OH Mayfield Brain & Spine. https://mayfieldclinic.com/pe-sciatica.htm  
  4. Types of sciatica. PainScale. (n.d.). https://www.painscale.com/article/types-of-sciatica