Important Facts About The Sciatic Nerve: Understanding Its Anatomy

by Will Bozeman

Sciatica, or inflammation in the sciatic nerve, is a common cause of back and leg pain. In fact, it’s estimated that around 40 percent of the population will get sciatica at some point in their lives. However, because there are so many different possible causes of sciatica, it can be challenging to treat. In fact, many people may not even realize that there is an underlying cause of their pain.

To adequately address your sciatic nerve pain, a proper diagnosis is critical to determining the underlying cause of your symptoms and is essential to providing effective treatment. Knowing more about the anatomy of the sciatic nerve may help you better understand your symptoms so that you can take steps to manage your sciatic nerve pain.

Basic Anatomy: Where Is The Sciatic Nerve Located?

The sciatic nerve is by far the longest nerve in the body, and it divides into two branches known as the tibial and peroneal nerves. These two nerves run down the back of each leg, providing sensation and movement to different parts of your lower body. The sciatic nerve is found in the lower part of the spine (specifically L4-S3 spinal levels). It runs through the lower back, hips, buttocks, and down each leg.

Functions Of The Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve is responsible for providing sensation and movement to different parts of your lower body. It plays a crucial role in how the lower extremities function, including providing sensory innervation to muscles in the gluteal region and controlling movement in the lower limbs.

Additionally, it supplies nerves to the anterior, posterior, and lateral compartments of the lower leg. Without a properly functioning sciatic nerve, these areas would not be able to move, and you would experience numbness or paralysis in the affected areas. Finally, the sciatic nerve is also responsible for controlling reflexes in the lower body, such as knee-jerk reflexes.

Branches Of The Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve consists of three distinct branches:

  • Articular branches: These branches provide sensory innervation to the joints of the hips and knees.
  • Muscular branches: These branches provide motor innervation to muscles in the lower body, such as those in the gluteal region.
  • Distal branches: These branches provide sensory and motor innervation to the lower extremities, such as the legs and feet.

Pain Along The Sciatic Nerve

Sciatica is the term used to describe pain along the sciatic nerve, often due to compression or irritation of the nerve itself. This discomfort can range from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or even numbness in the affected area.

  • Where do you feel it the most?
    Sciatic nerve pain is often felt in the lower back, buttocks, and legs since these are the areas where the nerve runs through. Many people also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected area.
  • How does it feel?
    The type and intensity of the pain may vary from person to person. Some people experience a mild ache, while others feel sharp, burning sensations, or numbness.
  • What triggers or worsens the pain?
    Poor posture, prolonged sitting or standing, repetitive motions, improper lifting techniques, and wearing high heels can all contribute to sciatic nerve pain.

Conditions That May Cause Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatica can be caused by various conditions, which is why it’s so important to receive an official diagnosis that identifies the root cause. The most common causes of sciatic nerve pain include:


A woman who is pregnant will experience weight gain as a result of the baby. This increase in weight can place pressure on the sciatic nerve, resulting in pain in lower back, buttocks, and leg pain. It usually resolves on its own following the birth, but in some cases, it can persist.


An injury to the lower back, such as a fracture, can cause compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, resulting in pain along the nerve. The severity of the injury and whether any additional complications have occurred will impact how bad the symptoms are

Slipped Or Herniated Disk

A herniated disk (also known as a slipped or ruptured disk) occurs when the cushioning discs between the vertebrae become damaged or worn down. This can cause the disc to press against the nerve root, resulting in pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the medical term used to describe when the spinal canal narrows. The spinal canal is the space between your vertebrae. This narrowing can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, resulting in pain along the nerve and numbness or weakness in the affected area.

Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome is when a small muscle located deep within the buttocks (the piriformis muscle) becomes tight. When the piriformis muscle tightens or spasms, it can result in pressure on the sciatic nerve. Piriformis syndrome is typically caused by repetitive motions or prolonged sitting.


Tumors are abnormal growths of tissue that put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Tumors are usually benign (non-cancerous), but in rare cases, they can be malignant (cancerous).


Spondylolisthesis is a condition where one vertebra slips forward over another, narrowing the space between them and putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. It’s caused by a vertebral fracture or degeneration of the bones, and it can cause pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.

Risk Factors For Sciatic Nerve Conditions

There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing a sciatic nerve condition, including:


Certain conditions that can cause sciatic nerve pain, such as spinal stenosis and disc herniation, are more likely to occur in people over 50. This is because the discs in your spine naturally lose their elasticity and cushioning as you age.


Diabetes is a common condition caused by high blood sugar levels. People with diabetes are more likely to develop sciatic nerve pain due to neuropathy.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition. It can cause inflammation of the joints, including those in your lower back. This can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause pain along the nerve.


Obesity is a risk factor for sciatic nerve conditions since the extra weight can strain your lower back and increase the risk of disc herniation.

Repetitive Motion And Overuse

Repetitive motions or overuse of the lower body can lead to inflammation in the muscles and tendons that the sciatic nerve runs through, resulting in pain along the nerve.

How Sciatic Nerve Pain Is Assessed And Diagnosed

Because so many conditions can cause sciatic nerve pain, it’s crucial to have a thorough assessment with your doctor. With that in mind, the following may be used to diagnose the underlying cause of your sciatica:

  • Physical tests: Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam. This exam will help the doctor to assess your range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Doing so can help them determine where the nerve has been affected and if there is any additional damage or weakness.
  • Imaging: Imaging tests, which can include X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs, can help your doctor identify any structural abnormalities contributing to the sciatic nerve pain, such as a herniated disc or tumor.
  • Nerve conduction velocity studies: This test measures the speed at which electrical signals move through a specific nerve. If there is any damage or disruption to the nerve, it will show up on the test.
  • Electromyography: An electromyography test measures the electrical activity in your muscles. This test helps to determine if there is any nerve damage or dysfunction.
  • Myelogram: This imaging test involves injecting dye into the spinal canal to help identify any structural abnormalities in the spine or nerve roots.

Conventional Medical Treatments

A conventional doctor may recommend a variety of treatments for sciatica, including:

  • Ice or Heat: Applying ice or heat to the area affected by sciatica pain can help reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and pain.
  • Medication: Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications (for example, ibuprofen or naproxen) can reduce inflammation and pain. However, it’s important to note that OTC medications often have side effects and are generally only helpful in treating the surface-level symptoms of sciatica. In some cases, more powerful prescription medications may be prescribed for more severe pain; however, these can be habit-forming.
  • Stretching: Gentle stretching is an effective way to reduce the tension in your lower back and hips, which can help alleviate sciatic nerve pain.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can develop a personalized exercise program to help you strengthen the lower back and hip muscles, improve your range of motion, and reduce pain.
  • Spinal Injections: Injections of corticosteroids or anesthetic medication can reduce inflammation and pain. However, injections typically have the same drawback as OTC medications in that they only provide short-term relief and won’t address the root cause.
  • Surgery: Surgery is typically only used as a last resort, and it carries risks and potential complications due to being an invasive procedure. Surgical procedures that help address sciatica include laminectomy, discectomy, and spinal fusion.
  • Alternative Therapies: In addition to traditional treatments, there are alternative therapies that can sometimes help reduce pain and inflammation associated with sciatica. These include massage therapy, acupuncture, electric stimulation (e-stim) therapy, and chiropractic care. However, it’s important to note that while some alternative therapies are proven to work ( such as e-stim therapy) others lack scientific evidence and can even be harmful in some cases (such as chiropractic care).

Addressing Sciatica Pain Through Neurofunctional Pain Management

At Neuragenex, we use a comprehensive approach to treating sciatic nerve pain. We employ a Neurofunctional Pain Management approach that includes various modalities and treatments designed to target the underlying causes of sciatica and help restore the functioning of the nervous system. We also avoid using painkillers, which only offer temporary relief and can lead to various side effects, as well as invasive procedures (such as surgery), which can result in significant complications. That being said, the following are the primary forms of treatment we use as part of our whole-person approach to pain management:


Electroanalgesia is a type of e-stim therapy that uses electrical signals to help interrupt pain signals to your brain. It has been proven effective in treating acute and chronic pain, including sciatic nerve pain. In addition to blocking pain signals, electroanalgesia therapy also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving hormones and improves circulation, thereby helping reduce inflammation.

Unlike other types of e-stim therapy, electroanalgesia is an FDA-cleared treatment that uses a much higher pulse rate to deliver electrical currents to the affected area. For example, another common type of e-stim treatment is called TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), and it typically uses under 400 pulses per second. Electroanalgesia safely delivers up to 10,000 pulses per second. This higher pulse rate increases the effectiveness of the treatment, resulting in more effective long-term pain relief.

Specialized IV therapy

At Neuragenex, we also use specialized IV therapy to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with sciatica. Our customized blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients, is designed to nourish the nervous system and reduce inflammation. This helps to improve nerve function and restore balance to the body. In addition, our IV therapy also helps to support healthy energy levels and improve overall well-being.

Lifestyle counseling

We also offer lifestyle counseling to help our patients identify and address any potential underlying factors contributing to their sciatic nerve pain. This can include dietary changes, stress-reduction techniques, sleep optimization strategies, and exercise recommendations. Our ultimate goal is to help our patients achieve optimal health and well-being, both physically and mentally, which is why we believe lifestyle counseling is such an essential part of our whole-person approach to pain management.

Seek The Best Treatment For Sciatic Nerve Pain

At Neuragenex, we take a comprehensive, whole-person approach to pain management that helps our patients find relief from sciatic nerve pain without using painkillers, injections, or invasive procedures. Our Neurofunctional Pain Management approach includes electroanalgesia, specialized IV therapy, and lifestyle counseling to help address the underlying causes of sciatica and restore balance to the body. If you’re suffering from persistent sciatic nerve pain, contact us today to learn more about how our treatment options can help.

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