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What is Sciatica

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Presumably you’ve come here to find out right? Well, the term sciatica usually refers to one main symptom, shooting pains down the back part of either leg. Now although there can be many root causes for the condition, which will be covered a little later on. In around 90% of cases of true sciatica, the condition is caused by a herniated or prolapsed disc in the spine (ouch!).

That said in terms of real world stats this sort of prolapse is quite unlikely being attributed to around 20% of cases of long term, severe back pain, so you’re probably alright really…probably.

There are many symptoms you can experience that are similar to sciatica so it can be deceptive when trying to diagnose it sometimes. The best way to see if you have it is to lie flat on your back & have someone lift your leg, while keeping it straight at the knee. If there is significant pain shooting doing the back of your leg then the chances are that you have sciatica!

That said a lot of people misinterpret some common & less severe symptoms for sciatica such as piriformis syndrome & some weakness & tightening of the hip muscles like the glutes & hamstrings. These sort of things can cause similar symptoms to sciatica but usually are much less severe.

Common causes of Sciatica

As we mentioned above, the leading cause for true sciatica is a herniated or prolapsed spinal disc which conjures up some pretty serious imagery but all is not lost! Interestingly, there have been some recent studies showing that some discs that become herniated can spontaneously de-herniate themselves with no intervention (hooray!).

So here are a few common causes;

  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Ruptured or herniated discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis (trauma causing a vertebrae to move posteriorly)
  • Pelvic tumours
  • Pregnancy

Common symptoms of Sciatica

  • It is very common that sciatica only affects one leg but in some cases it can affect both with shooting pains down the posterior leg (but can also refer pain to lateral thigh & anterior thigh)
  • Weakness & numbness in the leg or foot
  • Pain with walking, exercising & sitting for long periods

What can I do about it?

What you can do to help yourself really depends on the root cause of the problem. If for example you are feeling sciatic pain due to spinal stenosis then the only real option would be surgical intervention. That said there is usually a few tricks & tips that can keep the pain in check.

Stretching

You can’t go too far wrong with a bit of stretching, try to focus your efforts around the lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings & calves. This will increase your range of movement in these areas & allow the sciatic nerve more blood flow & greater movement therefor decreasing pain.

Exercise

Sometimes exercise can exacerbate the symptoms of sciatica but as long as you try to maintain a normal pattern of movement then it can help. Some people find hamstring & hip exercises can really help to decrease the pain & symptoms.

Massage

Of course I wouldn’t write an article if there wasn’t massage involved! Although it’s not going to directly help with hernitated discs etc. it does work in a similar way to stretching and exercise.

Treatment for the lower back, hips, glutes & hamstrings can significantly help to reduce symptoms of sciatica. Improving blood flow, especially to the nerve fibres & increasing your range of movement can really help with the pain!

Interesting Sciatica Facts
  • The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body & in most people is around the thickness of a man’s thumb!
  • 90% of sciatica is caused by disc herniations
  • Herpes Zoster & Hip disease can create similar symptoms
  • In about 90% of people symptoms resolve in less than six weeks
  • Depending on how it is defined, less than 1% to 40% of people have sciatica at some point in time.
  • It is most common during people’s 40s and 50s, and men are more frequently affected than women.
  • The condition has been known since ancient times
  • The first known use of the word sciatica dates from 1451

Interesting stuff indeed!

Summary

So although it’s unlikely that your symptoms really are true sciatica, you may be experiencing some similar, milder symptoms which are very common. But I wouldn’t worry, generally if the onset of your symptoms has been gradual (i.e. starting mildly and gradually becoming worse over time) then the likely hood is that it’s probably down to some muscular tension or weakness from your day to day activities like sitting on your bum!

With a little stretching & massage most people’s symptoms will subsided in around 6 weeks!

If you’re ever concerned about anything you’re experiencing that seems like sciatica, book yourself a consultation with one of our super dooper therapists & we will be able to assess your further!

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