Sciatica – the facts

  • When we were discussing seminar topics the one suggested left and right was Sciatica! This is obviously a topic people think about in connection with physiotherapy. And I was looking back at the articles I’ve written for the EWN and my own blog over the last decade and realised, I have NEVER written about sciatica!!

    So here goes, my first EVER article about sciatica! Fingers crossed!

    What is it?

    Sciatica is when you get pain along the course of the sciatic nerve.

    The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the whole body! And runs from your lumbar spine, through your hips/buttocks into your knee, calf and all the way to your foot.

    So sciatica can cause pain or problems at any point along this nerve.

    And can be caused by pain or problems at any point along the nerve from spine to toes!

    What does it feel like?

    Interestingly it does not really feel like back pain! Although the back is obviously part of the root cause.

    Sciatica is nerve pain.

    So you usually feel it in the buttocks, legs and/or feet (one side worse than the other):

    • Shooting / burning pain
    • Pins and needles or tingling
    • Weakness or a feeling the leg won’t support you
    • Can move around or come and go without any obvious trigger
    • Can feel similar to leg cramps or other “odd” sensations – nerve pain can be confusing.
    • Often feels worse after periods of inactivity / fixed posture like sitting

    What next?

    Short term:

    • Gentle movement and whatever stretches feel comfortable will make it feel a little easier. Rest will often make you feel stiffer and more uncomfortable.
    • Ice pack on your lower back to reduce inflammation
    • Or heat on the leg where it feels painful – the destination of that nerve pain likes it warm!

    Long term:

    • If the pain lasts for more than 24-48 hours or happens very regularly then you need a professional!
    • We need to look at reducing the inflammation along the nerve and the muscle tension as well as helping the spine get back into a stronger, healthier condition.
    • Avoid injections as all they do is mask the symptoms.

    If you are having trouble controlling your bowel movements or getting persistent numbness around your genitals get professional help immediately!

    But it’s not about sciatica

    One key thing to remember is that Sciatica or sciatic pain is a symptom NOT a condition.

    So if the treatment you are getting is only focused on treating the sciatica and not understanding the cause or root of the problem . . . . . it’s only ever going to be temporary.

    Yes, at the beginning pain relief has to be a primary goal but that’s a short term goal.

    Long term the whole point is to understand and treat the root cause so it doesn’t come back!

    For more information about back pain and sciatica check out the detailed guide and podcast on our website , our Facebook page “Bodyworks Health Clinic” or call us on 952 883 151