Sciatica, have you had it or know someone who has? Up to 40% of the population can suffer with sciatica at some point in their lives, and therefore is a common problem GP’s and therapist see patients for. But what is it and why is it such a pain in the back side?
Sciatica is actually a symptom not a diagnosis, and it is our job as therapists to figure out what is causing your pain. Sciatica is irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body and starts in the lower back and, passes through the buttock muscles (glutes), down the legs and into the feet. When the nerve is compressed this can lead to shooting pain or numbness in the back, hips, leg and foot.
• Back, buttock or leg pain
• Pins and needles or numbness in the leg/foot
• Feeling of weakness or heaviness in the leg
• Pain often increases bending forwards
• Severe symptoms- loss of bladder or bowel control
Slipped disc- This is term is a misconception, the disc doesn’t go or slip anywhere. Your discs are small circles of jelly that sit between your vertebrae. When they are squashed they can start to form bulges (protrusion or herniation) that can stick out and press onto the sciatic nerve causing compression and pain. Disc problems account for approximately 90% of sciatica pain.
Spinal stenosis– This is when narrowing of the spinal canal occurs. This is the space in which the spinal cord travels through, and disc problems or bony spurs can squash the spinal cord or nerve root causing pain.
Piriformis Syndrome- The piriformis muscle is a deep buttock muscle, which when it tightens or spasms can compress the sciatic nerve resulting in buttock and leg pain. Symptoms are often worse with when sitting. There are a number of reasons why this muscle spasms, but pain relief can be easier by using stretching, massage and acupuncture.
Pregnancy- Sciatica is more common in the second and third trimester when your baby is growing, which increases the weight and pressure on lower back and pelvis leading to sciatic pain. Unfortunately another fun side effect of being pregnant, however massage, manual hands-on therapy and Pilates can help to reduce your pain.
Although pain killers can give you some pain relief, we recommend you keep moving, little and often. Sitting on the sofa, delegating and binging on Netflix are not going to make you better. So get off your backside to get rid of the pain in your backside. It is important to find out what is causing your sciatica……..stop self-diagnosing on google and go and see someone who knows what they are doing.
Once you know the cause of your pain, it’s much easier to treat. Treatments such as massage, mobilisations, traction, acupuncture and taping techniques can help. Pilates and home exercise including stretching and strengthening are often recommend, and can also be used to reduce pain and prevent future flare-ups.