What is Sciatica?

People often complain of having “Sciatica” when they feel pain down the back of the leg. What is Sciatica? Sciatica is generally a nerve pain due to irritation or compression of the large Sciatic nerve that passes down the back of the leg. Sciatic can range from very mild to severe and debilitating.

The sciatic nerve is made up of lots of nerve roots coming from the lower parts of the spinal cord and spine in the lower back. The nerve roots join up to become the “Sciatic Nerve”. This nerve comes from the bottom of the spine, through the buttock region, into the back of the thigh and leg.

What can cause Sciatica?

Sciatica may be caused by anything that irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve or the roots that make up the sciatic nerve. The most common causes are

  • Bulging of the discs in the lumbar spine
  • Arthritic changes in the lower back that can cause the roots of the nerve to become pinched or irritated

What does it feel like?

Most patients suffering from sciatica have a

  • Burning pain or ache that they feel in the buttock and also the back of the leg.
  • Severe cases may have the pain extend down the outside of the calf and also into the foot
  • Possibly have pins and needles or a numb sensation over the area/s
  • Sneezing, coughing, bending forwards, lifting something heavy or stretching the back of the leg will usually
    make the symptoms feel worse

It is important to know that not all pain felt in the back of the leg is sciatica. In fact referred pain from joints and muscles in the lower back and pelvis are a very common cause of leg pain but are not considered true ‘sciatica’

What is the treatment of Sciatica?

Seeing an Osteopath, Physiotherapist or your GP will help to confirm the diagnosis of sciatica. They can then educate you on condition and how best to manage it. You may be advised to

  • Rest – for a short period from certain activities that aggravate (these may be different for different people)
  • Your GP may also prescribe medication if required
  • Exercises – that encourage movement without irritating your condition or help to build strength long term
  • Manual therapy involving reducing spasm or tension in muscles, mobilisation or traction of the lumbar spine area
  • Your Osteopath or Physiotherapist will also help advise you on how and when to return to normal activities
  • An Exercise Physiologist can work with you to teach you rehabilitation exercises and improve your core strength.

Luckily most cases sciatica will resolve with one or more of the above. In persistent or severe cases your health care professional will refer you for the appropriate scan. Surgery is rarely required and only if there is significant disc bulge or compression.

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