What is Acute Sciatica?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Acute sciatica is the sudden onset in pain in one leg. The pain can take a variety of forms and may shoot all the way from the hip to the foot. This condition can occur as a standalone issue and it may be recurrent or only experienced once. Treatments for acute sciatica are dependent on the underlying cause, but can include rest, medications, and surgery in some patients. Treatment may be supervised by a neurologist and can also involve the services of someone like a physical therapist.

Sciatica is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, the nerve responsible for innervating the leg. This pressure can be the result of a herniated disc, inflammation, stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal, pregnancy, certain habits or working conditions, and congenital anomalies. In the case of acute sciatica, the pain onsets abruptly and is extreme. Patients can have difficulty walking and may be distracted by the pain, making it hard to focus on completing tasks.


If people experience a shooting pain in the leg with no history of sciatica or neurological problems, they should see a doctor for evaluation. Medical imaging studies and a physical exam can be performed to learn more about what is going on and develop an appropriate treatment plan for the patient. Sometimes, simply resting is enough. Patients may also be given pain medications for inflammation. If the sciatica does not clear up, surgery may be necessary to correct an issue like a herniated disc.

In patients with a history of sciatica and neurological problems, acute sciatica can be a potential issue that may come and go with time. Management of the underlying problems can help reduce the severity of acute sciatica attacks and patients may also consider options like electrical nerve stimulation to address the pain. Surgery can also be offered as a treatment option in some cases, although it is not always appropriate for a patient's needs.

Gentle exercise seems to help reduce the risk of developing acute sciatica, as does eating a balanced diet and working in safe, comfortable positions. People with jobs involving a lot of standing should wear supportive shoes and rest in a seat during breaks, while people who sit at work should maintain good posture and remember to get up and stretch periodically. Posture-related sciatica is a potential problem in many workplaces where people are expected to hold positions for extended periods of time.


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