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What is Sciatica?

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Sciatica is one of the most common presenting complaints in clinic and research by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) shows us that up to 40% of people will experience symptoms of sciatica at some point during their life.

The sciatic nerve travels from the lower back, through the buttock and back of the thigh and then branches into the lower leg and foot. It is the longest and thickest nerve in the body and can be irritated or compressed at any point along that route.

Symptoms which are classically associated with sciatica include sharp electric, stabbing or burning pain along the course of the nerve, and because the nerve directly innervates the muscles in the back of the thigh, you might also experience a limp, weakness in the muscles, and hot and cold sensations in the affected leg. Your symptoms might be further exacerbated by bending forwards, twisting, and coughing or sneezing.

Causes of sciatica:

Inflammation irritating the nerve - This can follow an injury or infection

Piriformis Syndrome – A compression of the nerve in the buttock by the piriformis muscle

Herniated or prolapsed disc – When the soft cushion between the vertebrae becomes compromised and compresses the nerve.

Spinal Stenosis – When the spinal canal in your lower back becomes narrower.

When to seek medical advice

Most cases of sciatic pain will resolve successfully, but if you experience any of the following symptoms you should seek medical advice:

Sciatic symptoms in both legs

Severe weakness in both legs that is getting worse

Numbness around the genital/saddle region

Abnormal change to your bowel or bladder movements. For example, difficulty starting urination or loss of bladder or bowel control.

How can an Osteopath help?

During your appointment with us we will take a full case history and carry out a thorough examination to establish if you are experiencing sciatica or another problem which may show itself in a similar way, for example sacroiliac joint dysfunction, lumbar spine facet joint irritation or hip conditions. We would then form a treatment plan specific to you, including hands on treatment and the prescription of exercises, or provide you with an onward referral should that be appropriate.

How can you help yourself?

Keep gently active, activities such as walking, swimming and Yoga or Pilates can be extremely beneficial. If you work at a desk, make sure you take regular breaks and keep moving around. Always be mindful of your posture, whether it’s when sitting at home relaxing or when carrying out more physical activities such as lifting.

Please feel free to get in touch if you need some help or advice.

Caroline Vass, Director & Osteopath

Read more about Caroline in Our Team section​


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