Sciatica is the term used to describe any pain which originates from the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body and begins from nerve roots in the lumbar spinal cord in the lower back, moving through the buttocks and down through the legs to just below the knee.
Contrary to common belief, sciatica itself is not a condition but a symptom of irritation to the sciatic nerve. When sciatic pain is experienced it is typically felt from the lower back area to behind the thigh and in some cases radiates down below the knee.
One of the most common causes of sciatica is a lumbar disc herniation which directly applies pressure on the nerve. This is a situation in which a disc may have degenerated and broken down, causing the core to leak out through the outer area of the disc.
Spondylolisthesis is another common cause. This occurs when there is a slippage of one vertebra so that it is out of line with the one above it, resulting in a narrowing of the opening through where the nerve exits.
Pregnancy can also bring on sciatic pain, especially in the second and third trimester when the baby’s head is in a lower position in the abdomen and can press against its mother’s sciatic nerves. Women who have sciatic pain during pregnancy might feel shooting pains or numbness in the lower back or buttocks area.
The pain can be so severe that movement is restricted and sitting or standing is very painful. Treating sciatica during pregnancy will help reduce discomfort and increase mobility.
How is sciatica diagnosed and treated?
Most people visit their GP when sciatica is suspected. A doctor will review the individual’s symptoms and undertake a physical exam which could involve a straight leg raise test in which each leg is lifted to see at what stage pain occurs. Such an exam can help to identify the nerves affected and whether there is a disc problem.
Other tests could be ordered including an X-ray or MRI scan for a closer look at the spine.
Since sciatica can cause its sufferers a great deal of pain, one of the motivations of treatment is to reduce discomfort and increase mobility. Treatment usually involves physical therapy and pain killing medicine to reduce inflammation and pain.
Most sciatica pain resolves naturally over a period of weeks. Only in a minority of cases will patients experience pain for longer.
Many sufferers of sciatica seek the services of an osteopath to help relieve their symptoms and promote recovery. An osteopath is likely to use muscle release techniques to encourage muscles which may have trapped and compressed a nerve to relax and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. Such techniques will be supported by a rehabilitation exercise programme.
Patients who have sought osteopathic treatment for sciatica believe that it plays an important role in keeping further episodes of pain at bay.
I hope you found this article useful. While most cases of sciatica are unpreventable, you can take steps to protect your spine by adopting correct lifting techniques and undertaking regular exercise. Some people book twice yearly maintenance treatments with an osteopath to help keep pain and problems at bay.