Feature Article

Sciatica: how to assess it, what to say and when to worry

Nick Christelis



Sciatica is a common presentation in general practice, with pain often settling with conservative management. However, it is important to identify red flags and to understand the types of pain and pain generators that can give rise to sciatica.

Key Points

  • The term sciatica is often used to describe nonspecific back and leg pain; however, it is a confusing term and specific terminology to describe the pain should be used instead.
  • Red flag conditions are not common in people with sciatica but need to be considered in all cases.
  • Although imaging should not be routinely offered to people with sciatica and low back pain, MRI or radiography can be considered in certain clinical situations.
  • Most cases of sciatica resolve within three months of conservative management.
  • Referral of the patient to a specialist pain service should be considered if there is severe pain, the pain significantly limits their lifestyle or conservative therapies are ineffective.

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