Sciatica…This is a dreaded word when it comes to back pain. But we wanted to clear at few things up about what sciatica feels like and how it can be quite different in comparison to back pain.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and originates from the low back spinal levels called L4,5 and through our sacrum at S1,2 and 3. This nerve makes up a large portion to the sensory and motor supply to our leg. Sciatica refers to the irritation of this nerve. The irritation can be either at the nerve root (where it comes off the spinal cord) or somewhere along the pathway of the nerve as it passes down either leg.
Irritation can occur in low back from either a chemical or mechanical stimulus.
A mechanical stimulus refers to compression of the nerve from either tight muscles as it passes between large muscle groups, swelling or tension in our body with movement.
And a chemical stimulus refers to inflammation that can irritate the nerve from common back injuries such as a facet or disc complaint.
Age – people in their 30s and 40s have a higher risk of developing sciatica.
Occupation – jobs requiring lifting heavy loads for long periods.
Sedentary lifestyle – those who sit for long periods and are physically inactive are more likely to develop sciatica, when compared to active people.
Similar to hitting our funny bone, irritation to the Sciatic nerve can give us short, sharp bursts of pain down the leg.
It also can look like this:
Irritation to the sciatic nerve does not need to occur with back pain but they often go hand in hand.
First off, we like to look at why this has happened. This comes back to whether it is a mechanical or chemical stimulus that is causing the irritation. What we then want to do is target and manage that. By using hands on techniques to mobilize structures through the hip and back, we can increase the range that the joints and muscles have to move in. This can decrease tension around the nerve (getting on top of managing that mechanical stimulus) and can also allow for fluid or swelling to clear (that’s our chemical stimulus). But that’s also only tip of the iceberg in our management. We want to keep you moving in that way so we don’t end up in the same position further down the track with tension in our tissues again. This is why our osteopaths consider the whole body in your treatment as tension can have a ripple effect through the entire body.
Medication is another avenue to help reduce severity of symptoms. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you on the specifics so make sure you ask the question if you really are struggling
Heat and cold have also been useful for many people to get some symptomatic relief. It wont solve the issue but by reducing pain severity, even if it’s temporary, does your body a good service.
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