Sussex Back Pain Clinic

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Trapped Nerves, Sciatica and Slipped Discs

how we_can_help_slipped_discs1Although these are often the most painful and difficult conditions to treat they can respond very well to treatment.

The Sussex Back Pain Clinic has also become a Specialist Centre for Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression treatment to successfully treat disc prolapse and sciatica using IDD Spinal Decompression Therapy.

Trapped nerves

These are among the most painful conditions that you may suffer from and are usually caused by either direct pressure on the nerve or from a reduction of the blood flow from the squeezing of the blood vessels that supply the nerve. They usually occur in the arms or legs but can happen in the hands feet and around the chest.

They are characterised by a severe ache, often described as like a bad toothache, radiating into the limb which becomes sharp with movement and may give altered sensations such as ‘pins and needles’ in the hands or feet. The pain may vary in intensity from a mild discomfort to almost unbearable pain that prevents you from sleeping. The most common form of nerve entrapment occurs down the leg and is called sciatica.


This term is commonly used to describe any pain in the buttock or leg. It's often due to a problem at the level of the low lumbar spine, which stimulates nerves as they pass through this region. Although there is technically no injury to the leg, it's possible to suffer from a referred pain from the spine which is felt in the leg.

True sciatica is due to a nerve entrapment of the sciatic nerve. It is felt as a sharp pain radiating down the back of the leg and often into the sole of the foot and big toe. It may be associated with 'pins and needles' or even numbness, which usually starts in the big toe and works up the back of the leg. This is due to an entrapment at the level of the spine (radiculopathy), more commonly known as a 'slipped disc', and is potentially the most serious form of sciatica.

Sciatic pain may also result from a condition known as Pyriformis Syndrome. This may occur as the sciatic nerve runs close to the Pyriformis muscle, located deep in the buttock, which may spasm due to a number of reasons and can lead to a trapped nerve. This condition mimics the symptoms of a slipped disc almost completely but is usually much easier to correct and responds well to osteopathic treatment.

Slipped discs (radiculopathy)

Although known as a slipped disc, no slippage of the disc occurs. It actually involves a bulge (prolapse) in the disc wall (annulus) or a rupture (herniation) of the disc wall that allows the jelly-like centre of the disc (nucleus pulposus) to leak out. The annulus usually breaks down over a long period of time as a result of abnormal loading through the disc due to poor posture, past injury, poor spinal mechanics, poor muscle support or poor working habits.

discThe symptoms vary depending on the site of the discal weakness and whether the prolapse/herniation interferes with any pain sensitive structure. It most commonly occurs right at the base of the spine. This can give absolutely no pain at all or can give varying degrees of leg and low back pain. Although quite rare, a complete herniation can cause paralysis of the foot and leg and loss of control of the bladder and bowel.

These conditions require skilled assessment and diagnosis by an osteopath and will usually need an MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis which we can arrange for you.

It is very important that any pain radiating into the limb is checked quickly (usually within 72 hours of onset) no matter how minor, as fast intervention can often prevent more serious and painful conditions from developing. Leaving these conditions unresolved may lead to long-lasting damage especially to the sciatic nerve. It is therefore not wise to ignore even a mild backache or severe stiffness, especially in the morning, or any pain radiating into the leg or from ‘pins and needles’ in the foot, lasting longer than a few days as these, along with being slightly ‘lopsided’, are all early signs of discal damage, which if treated swiftly may prevent a serious and painful full herniation.

how we_can_help_slipped_discMedication prescribed by your GP can often help with the pain but does not get to the cause of the entrapment meaning that it may take several months for the entrapment to pass. Osteopaths are skilled at finding the mechanical reasons responsible for the nerve entrapments and use effective, gentle treatments to correct these stresses and, given some time, allow the disc to heal without the need for surgery or epidural injection.

There is some evidence to support the fact that osteopathic treatment can help with sciatic pain* and Clinical experience shows that about 40 to 50% will respond very well to osteopathic treatment and rehabilitative exercise.

For those that osteopathy alone cannot help all is not lost! Our investment in a spinal distraction unit from the USA allows us to offer IDD Spinal Decompression Therapy to mechanically open the disc space and allow the prolapsed disc to be ‘sucked’ back in and take the pressure off the spinal nerves, thus stopping your sciatica. This is a real non surgical alternative which we have achieved very good results with, keeping many of our patients away from the surgeon and getting their lives back.

If you have any questions relating to trapped nerves, sciatica or slipped discs or want to learn more about IDD Spinal Decompression Therapy please call our reception on 01273 725667 and request our IDD Therapy Patient Information Pack.

Alternatively you can book an IDD Therapy Assessment Appointment and get started on the road to your recovery.

*Effectiveness of manual therapies: the UK evidence report. Chiropractic & Osteopathy 2010, 18:3 doi:10.1186/1746-1340-18-3 Article URL