Medical Definition of Sciatic nerve

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Sciatic nerve: The largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve begins from nerve roots in the lumbar part of the spinal cord (in the low back) and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down to the legs.

Pain resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. The pain is typically felt at the back of the thigh. While sciatica is most commonly a result of a disc herniation directly pressing on the nerve, any cause of irritation or inflammation of this nerve can reproduce the symptoms of sciatica.

Picture of a herniated lumbar disc
Picture of a herniated lumbar disc, a common cause of sciatica

The name "sciatic" came via Latin from the Greek "ischiadikos" which means "subject to trouble in the hips or loins."

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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