Most of you have probably heard of the term sciatica, however, may not be familiar with what it means to have sciatica. Sciatica is referred pain down the back of the leg caused from lower back pain.
The sciatic nerve is the longest in the body, which runs from your lower back down through the buttock, hamstrings, and lower legs. The sciatic nerve originates from spinal segments L4, L5, S1, S2 and S3. Leg pain can have various sources. It can be a local leg injury, or it may even be referred from your lower back. The main nerve that travels from your lower back to your leg is your sciatic nerve. Irritation or pinching of your sciatic nerve can cause severe leg pain known as sciatica.
Now we know that sciatica is leg pain originating from the back, what causes it?
A disc bulge or herniated disc is the most common cause of sciatica. When the disc pushes on the nerve root (where the nerve leaves the spine), it can affect the whole descending pathway of that nerve and as stated above this nerve travels from the low back into the leg and therefore symptoms originating in the back can cause symptoms into the leg. Other causes such as joint inflammation, nerve compression from bony arthritic growths, locked facet joint in the lower spine or muscles entrapping the nerve can also cause sciatica. Essentially, anything that irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve can cause sciatic pain.
The pain from sciatica can be anything from infrequent and irritating to severe and debilitating. Sciatica often only affects one side and causes pain that usually begins in the lower back and spreads through the buttock, leg, calf and sometimes the foot. The pain can vary between dull, aching or burning sensations and sharp, shooting pains.
Sciatica can also cause tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg.
One or more of the following can occur with sciatica:
- A pain in the buttock or leg that is worse when sitting
- Burning or tingling in the leg
- Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- Constant pain on one side of the rear calf
- A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up
What can Physiotherapy do?
Physiotherapy treatment aims to relieve the pain to ensure correct movement of spinal joints as well as easing muscular tension in the lower spine, buttock and leg. The main aims of physiotherapy are to reduce pain, restore movement, strengthen weakened muscles and reduce tension.
This can be achieved by some of the following techniques:
- Spinal mobilisations and nerve mobilisations
- Massage therapy and trigger point therapy
- Stretching tight muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments
- Ultrasound and other electrical stimulation devices
- Advice in relation to how to minimise pressure and irritation of the sciatic nerve
In addition to this, you will be given a series of home exercises prescribed by your physiotherapist. These will be tailored to the specific cause of your injury which will help relieve pain and improve mobility and stability of the affected regions.
If you are suffering with sciatica at the moment, please do not delay. Get in touch with us today.
By Will Lewis (Physiotherapist)