What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is defined as pain or discomfort associated with the sciatic nerve; Simply put Sciatica means “leg pain”. Meaning that when you go and see a practitioner with pain down the leg and are told that you have sciatica, they are basically saying “you have leg pain”. Which is a little obvious as I would assume you already know that! The question that really needs answering is Why.
Sciatica is where there is an irritation of the sciatic nerve which runs from the lower back down to the buttocks and into the back of the legs to the feet. It is the longest nerve in the body and can be compressed or irritated by a narrowing of where the nerve leaves the spine or by connective tissue and muscle along the nerves route down the body. This compression/irritation of the nerve causes pain to radiate down the nerve route and can be very uncomfortable, affect your mobility and sometimes strength of the leg.
What should I do if I have it?
Firstly, if you do have these symptoms it is important to see a medical professional quickly as there are quite a few different ailments that can feel the same. Hamstring tears, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, lumbar facet joint dysfunction, damaged inter-vertebral discs and stenosis of the spine can all give very similar symptoms. However, they will all require very different treatment and therefore will need to be assessed for the correct course of treatment to be given.
Whilst all the above can sound serious, and let’s be honest, fairly scary, there is good news; they can all be treated, and most can be managed with focused treatment and exercises.
With regards to Sciatica the most important issue to address is to decide what it is that is causing the nerve compression and pain. This is done by your practitioner completing clinical tests and discovering what movements manual therapy helps to alleviate the pain. From there your clinician can then design a treatment programme for you which will help to resolve the issue.
Of course, there are situations where surgical intervention will be required, however, this is less frequent than you would think. Even in cases where the patient has sciatica due to a herniated disc, over 60% of patients improved with no surgical intervention needed.
The most important take home message is that if you are experiencing pain radiating down the leg, find a clinician that you trust and ask for an assessment. Do not accept Sciatica as a diagnosis. Instead, ask for an explanation as to why you have the sciatic pain and details of a treatment pathway that will suit you.
Nearly all people who suffer with sciatic pain should consider conservative treatment before opting for surgical intervention, however, that choice is always easier when you have information about what is the most likely cause for your pain.