Most people have heard the term ‘sciatica’ but when asked further, not everyone is clear on what exactly it is. ‘Sciatica’ or ‘sciatic pain’ refers to symptoms from the irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. Nerves provide communication from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the rest of the body (muscles, joints, skin).

This nerve is formed from the combination of nerve roots of the lower lumbar and sacral area. It runs from the lower back (lumbar region) down the back of each thigh before splitting behind the knee and continuing down to the foot. Because the nerve travels the length of each leg, symptoms can be felt anywhere along the path of the nerve (low back, buttocks, posterior thigh, calf or foot).

Symptoms vary from person to person, but typically occur in one leg and can range from pain, numbness, tingling, burning and/or muscle weakness. The frequency of pain can be positional (only occurring with certain positions/activities: sitting, standing, or walking) or the pain can be constant.

Sciatic nerve irritation occurs when the nerve is compressed. The compression of the nerve can be from a herniated disc, degeneration of the spine (arthritis), tight muscles or a strain to the ligaments in the back.

There are various treatments for sciatic pain, with the majority being conservative options (non surgical). About 70% of the population with sciatica pain will recover fully within 2-6 months with the help of anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, chiropractic or alternative interventions.

Some of the exercises use to ease the nerve are stretches:

Knee to chest

Nerve stretch

Prone extension


If at least one of these exercises does not temporarily help ease your symptoms; or you notice leg weakness, or a change in sensitivity to touch in your leg; diagnostic testing may be necessary to help identify the structure causing the compression to the nerve. X-rays and MRI’s are typical tests used to assist in proper diagnosis.

Staying active, watching your posture and maintaining your flexibility is a great way to prevent sciatic pain from occurring. If symptoms from the sciatic nerve arise, try to avoid activities that aggravate your symptoms for a few weeks. This should allow the nerve to heal. If your symptoms linger longer than 6 weeks, it’s probably a good idea to check in with a health professional.