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Do You Have Back Pain That Runs Down The Back of Your Leg? It Could Be Sciatica

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

Sciatica is a common condition that many people will experience at some point in their lives, though it is often misunderstood. According to Harvard Medical School, nearly 40% of people will experience sciatica. If you are experiencing back pain that runs down the back of your leg, it could be sciatica.

How Do You Know If You Have Sciatica?

Sciatica is a general term used to describe the pain associated with the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve as it exits the spine. The pain may originate in the low back and radiate into the buttocks region and travel down the back of the leg and even into the foot. Some of the other symptoms may include sharp or shooting pain, numbness and tingling, and weakness, which often worsens with sitting for extended periods of time.

What Causes the Nerve to Become Irritated?

The sciatic nerve originates in the lumbar and sacral levels of the spine (L4-S3) and travels down the back of the leg and into the foot. Compression of the nerve may occur anywhere along the nerve as it exits the spine or runs between muscles of the back of the leg. Often the nerve is compressed at the nerve root where it exits the spine in between two vertebrae due to herniation of the disc or spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space between two vertebrae where the nerve root exits the spine and can be caused by arthritis or other degenerative changes. Irritation of the nerve may also be attributed to poor posture with sitting and standing for extended periods of time, tight muscles in the hips and back, and weakness in the core and glutes.

How To Decrease Symptoms

For many of us, our jobs require us to sit at a computer for hours. It is important that we make time to get up and move throughout the day. Some may need to set alarms that remind them to get up from their desks, while others might use a headset while making calls to allow them to walk around. Whatever your strategy, changing positions throughout your workday is essential to preventing sciatica symptoms.

Our team in San Diego provided three stretching videos below that can be done at your desk or in a doorway. Try these three exercises/stretches to improve hip and midback mobility and lower extremity flexibility to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Sit on a chair with one leg crossed over the other. Place one hand on top of the thigh while the other hand supports the ankle. While keeping your chest upright, gently lean forward to feel a stretch on the outside of the thigh and hip. If you want to progress the stretch, gently lean to each side.

Seated in a chair or on a step/box - Cross your arms at the elbow then round your back stretching the mid-back, then extend your mid-back, then side to side, and rotationally. You may keep your eyes forward or follow your movement.

  • Place your heel onto a chair in the doorway. While keeping the front leg straight lean your trunk forward until a stretch is felt under your leg (hamstring). Move your trunk forward and backward to drive in and out of the stretch in the sagittal plane.

  • While keeping the front leg straight on the chair, sway your hips side to side in the frontal plane.

  • While the front leg is straight on the chair, alternate reaching your hands across the leg in a transverse plane drive.

How Rehab United Seattle Can Help

At Rehab United Seattle, a licensed physical therapist will evaluate your body as a whole and determine the cause of your symptoms instead of simply treating the symptom. At Rehab United, we excel in combining our services to give you the best experience and get you back to doing what you love. The therapist will evaluate your posture, watch you walk, observe your body mechanics with movements required of you for your job or daily activities, and assess the tissues in your body, to determine what deficits may be causing your pain. You will learn strategies to manage symptoms and prevent recurrence. From our front desk to our Physical therapists, everyone is highly trained to assist you in finding the best possible care. Request an appointment today!

We've also put together a free back pain guide called, "7 Quick and Easy Ways to End Back Pain and Stiffness Without Taking Pills or Seeing Your Doctor," to help you take control of your back pain and get back to the happy and fulfilling life you deserve.


Ralph Dartt, PT, MPT, BFR-1, CAFS is a Physical Therapist at Rehab United Carmel Valley. As a former professional soccer player and graduate of California State University, Northridge, Ralph combines his knowledge of human movement and his experience as a professional athlete, to treat a wide variety of neuromuscular and musculoskeletal disorders.

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