Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Sciatic Pain Anatomy

To better understand sciatica, it helps to understand the anatomy of the lower spine and sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back. It begins as nerve roots in the lumbar area of the spinal cord, which join together to form the large sciatic nerve.

Nerves of the low back:

  • Nerve roots as they exit the lumbar spine
  • The sciatic nerve deep in the low back
  • The sciatic nerve in the leg

The spine is an upright row of stacked bones, called the vertebral column. Individual bones of the spine are called vertebrae. The vertebral column starts under the skull and continues to the buttocks.

Bones of the spine:
  • Bones of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
  • Lower spine

The front of each vertebra is a round, solid cylinder of bone. Between each pair of vertebrae, a disk attaches to the bottom of the vertebra above it, and to the top of the vertebrae below it. The discs act as rubber cushions between the vertebrae. In addition, strong ligaments and muscles hold the vertebral column together. All of these structures support, surround, and protect the spinal cord.

Anatomy of the vertebrae, disks and muscles:
  • The vertebral disks
  • View of disks and ligaments
  • Muscles of the back

Last Updated: Jul 8, 2009 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Sciatic Pain References
  1. Barrett PH, Beck A, Schmid K, Fireman B, Brown JB. Treatment decisions about lumbar herniated disk in a shared decision-making program. Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 2002 May;28(5):211-9. [12053454]
  2. Humphreys SC, Eck JC. Clinical evaluation and treatment options for herniated lumbar disc. Am Fam Physician. 1999 Feb 1;59(3):575-82, 587-8. [10029785]
  3. Ito T, Takano Y, Yuasa N. Types of lumbar herniated disc and clinical course. Spine. 2001 Mar 15;26(6):648-51. [11246377]
  4. Spencer DL. The anatomical basis of sciatica secondary to herniated lumbar disc: a review. Neurol Res. 1999;21 Suppl 1:S33-6. [10214569]
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