The truth about sciatica…

Our longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve travels from the lower back and buttocks into the legs. It is very common for people to have problems with the sciatic nerve, including sciatica. However, many people are unaware and misinformed as to what sciatica actually is.

So we’re here to set record straight on the truth about sciatica…

Sciatica is a symptom. Not a diagnosis.

That’s right. When told they have sciatica, many people believe that is their diagnosis. Sciatica itself is not actually a condition or disease, but rather a name for a set of symptoms caused by a spinal condition. 

Strictly speaking, sciatica is irritation of the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of the leg, all the way to the toe. The cause of this irritation in about 90% of cases is due to intervertebral disc damage, that is, the sciatic nerve being compressed by a disc or a trapped nerve as it exits the lumbar spine (lower back). This is generally due to inflammation from the facet joints, by an overstrain, or by encroachment from age-related wear and tear.

The tricky part is understanding whether or not you have true sciatica, as above, or something entirely different.

There are many causes of low back and leg pain, however most are not as serious as disc damage resulting in pressure on a spinal nerve. For instance, a common problem is referred pain in the leg caused by pain originating from the facet joint or sacroiliac joint. This isn’t nerve pain, but can be equally uncomfortable.

So getting a correct diagnosis can give you much more insight on what to expect, the right sort of exercises to do and to avoid, and how best to recover.

With sciatica, despite common belief, the most important thing is that you stay active. Long gone are the days when people were bedridden for three months with sciatica!

While it is fine to rest for a day or two if you are experiencing significant pain, you should try to keep moving. Strong core and back muscles help to support the spine and improve posture, thus relieving the symptom.

Your osteopath will work with you to treat the underlying cause that resulted in the lower back injury through hands-on treatment and formulating a management plan that aims to help you recover as quickly as possible. This will include advice on rehabilitative exercises you can do to gently stretch and strengthen the muscles in your lower back, as well as general day-to-day advice.

For example, when it comes to sleeping, laying on your back with your knees bent over at least two pillows is typically the most helpful position, as it shortens the nerve rather than stretching and aggravating it.

We will also look at how you move and see what we can do to improve this, as the aim of the treatment is to reduce pain and make sure your body is in the best state it can be for a quick recovery and to prevent it from reoccurring.

Prescribed drugs do little to help relieve sciatica, so getting the right balance between moving and resting is the most ideal way to help calm the symptom. Although some people require (and like!) to have ongoing maintenance treatment, our aim is always to help you help yourself psychologically and physically, ultimately reaching a stage where you can either manage your pain or be pain free altogether without the need for intervention.  

If you have any questions or would like to book a consultation, as always please give us a call on 01722 512043 or book online.

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