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  • Writer's pictureMichael Liougas

Sciatica: What It Is and How To Treat It

sciatic nerve travelling up and down the leg with close up side pics of the spine

Sciatica is a painful spinal condition that affects a person's lower body, primarily the lower back, buttock and hips. This pain originates from irritation, compression, or an injury to the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back down to the knee region, where it then branches off into different nerve bundles.

The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest nerve in the human body and, understandably, injuring it will induce a very uncomfortable sensation.

True sciatic nerve injury is uncommon, but many spinal injuries and irritations lead to sciatica and its painful symptoms of burning, shooting pains extending down the leg, and muscle numbness and weakness.

Luckily mild cases of sciatica can be treated by a physiotherapist in approximately 6-12 sessions. Physio treatment is geared at improving strength, flexibility, range of motion and after the inflammation has been reduced.

Symptoms of Sciatica

A few of the most commonly experienced sciatica symptoms are shooting, burning pains that travel from the buttock region to the lower leg, muscle tingling or weakness, numbness in the leg, and difficulty moving the affected leg. Unlike other back pains, even distinct, sharp lower back pains, sciatica symptoms generally flow along the entire sciatica nerve, hence the specific diagnosis.

Though other spinal pains and symptoms are often similar to true sciatica symptoms, sciatica alone is responsible for causing its unique, traveling pain. Injury to the thick sciatic nerve itself is rare, but certain spinal conditions and injuries are responsible for the compression and irritation of the nerve that leads to sciatica.

Many who experience sciatica report a higher intensity of pain within the buttock and lower back region, as this is where many sciatica symptoms originate and eventually spread down the sciatic nerve with a radiating effect.

sciatica causes lower back pain

The severity and intensity of sciatica symptoms vary from patient to patient and injury to injury. While some experience symptoms that are irritating and mildly painful, others become highly debilitated by the severity of their pain and the limited mobility it inflicts.

What Causes Sciatica?

The causes of sciatica are both fortunate in their avoid-ability and unfortunate in their commonness and everyday potential. Simply sitting in a chair for too long or in an awkward position can inflame and irritate areas surrounding the sciatic nerve, putting pressure on it and causing the shooting, burning pains associated with sciatica.

Depending on a person's occupation, work demands and tasks can also cause injury or irritation to the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated disk in the spine that pinches or squishes the sciatic nerve.

Twisting, bending, and lifting motions can cause a variety of injuries in the spine, from muscular to disk-related injuries, and performing these motions improperly or unsafely can result in an injury that irritates the sciatic nerve.

Old age is a common perpetrator that leads to sciatica by conditions like degenerative disk disease, osteoarthritis (jagged bones), and spondylolisthesis. All of which cause irritation and compression that directly affects the sciatic nerve.

Other more general, common causes of sciatica include obesity, pregnancy, improper sitting or sleeping support, and even wearing high heels. These causes are not created by a direct injury or disease, but by lifestyles and simple, day-to-day activities and actions that have not been executed safely.

Though this threat may seem discouraging, there are ways to mitigate and prevent symptoms of sciatica from occurring in an otherwise healthy individual without any major lifestyle changes.

person holding lower back due to the many causes of sciatica

Sciatica Treatments and Prevention

As aforementioned, sciatica can stem from a variety of sources ranging from simple movements to diseases of the spine and body. The source of sciatica determines how it will be treated, both within the home and with a medical provider.

Most mild symptoms of sciatica can be treated by brief lifestyle changes or adjustments, such as avoiding an activity that causes flare-ups and beginning a gentle exercise routine to strengthen the core and spinal muscles. These home treatments can alleviate symptoms of sciatica in six to twelve weeks, however, for more severe or complicated cases of sciatica, physiotherapy is key to healing the irritated or inflamed areas around the sciatic nerve.

physiotherapist identifying the exact the source of the back pain caused from sciatica

Physiotherapy uses exercise to reduce the pressure around the nerve. The strengthening exercises target the core, spine, and leg muscles to better support the spinal column and alleviate any harmful pressure within it.

Flexibility is also prioritized in physiotherapy as this benefit helps reduce strain and injury to the back. Maintaining strength and flexibility are key preventative measures in avoiding sciatica, and beginning a low-intensity workout plan is a simple tool that can greatly assist in this.

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