What Causes Sciatica?

  • Robert W. Baloh


Most ancient people thought that painful diseases like sciatica resulted from evil spirits that invaded the body through the “sinister” left nostril or left ear producing pain by infiltrating the blood vessels and heart. Of the many Egyptian gods Sekhmet and Seth were most commonly associated sciatica. The sudden violent sharp pain of sciatica was called the witch’s shot in Germany and in England, the elf’s arrow. Around the fifth century B.C., Hippocrates and his fellow Greek physicians challenged the notion that diseases resulted from supernatural forces. Hippocrates felt that sciatica resulted from damage to the hip. He observed that it was particularly common during summer and autumn and he speculated that hot weather led to drying up of the joint fluid. From what we know today, this seasonal occurrence was probably due to injuries from increased physical activities such as farming and athletic events common at that time of the year.


Lumbosacral spine Cauda equina Red flags Herniated disc Osteoarthritis Spondylolisthesis Sciatic neuritis Nerve entrapment Piriformis syndrome 

Suggested Additional Reading

  1. Mixter WJ, Barr JS. Rupture of the intervertebral disc with involvement of the spinal cord. N Engl J Med. 1934;211:210–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ropper AH, Zafonte RD. Sciatica. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:1240–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Baloh
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of NeurologyUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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