What is Sciatica?
One of the most common misconceptions about sciatica is that it’s a diagnosis in itself.
But it’s actually a symptom, not a condition.
It refers to sciatic nerve pain and other symptoms caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, most commonly caused by a bulging or herniated disc. This long and substantial nerve, the longest in your body, runs from the base of your spine to the end of your big toe.
Recognising True Sciatica Symptoms
While the term “sciatica” is often used loosely to describe leg pain, sciatica pain originates in the buttock, travels down the back of the leg, and extends to the outside and under the foot. True sciatica may also come with sensations like numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in the foot.
How Does Sciatica Feel?
True sciatica is characterised by:
- Pain in the buttock
- Pain that travels down the back of the leg
- Pain extending to the outside and under the foot
- Numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in the foot
A Quick Checklist for Sciatica Here’s a simple checklist to help you determine if your symptoms align with sciatica:
- The pain extends beyond the knee: Yes, No
- Numbness or pins and needles in the leg or foot:Yes, No
- Weakness in lifting your foot:Yes, No
If you’ve ticked “Yes” to these items, you might be dealing with sciatica. However, it’s crucial to get a proper diagnosis.
Common Causes of Sciatica
Damaged Discs and Sciatic Nerve Pain
When a damaged disc pushes on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the leg. This pain can come from the nerve being squeezed or from inflammation. The size of the disc problem doesn’t always match how much pain you feel.
Understanding Piriformis Syndrome
There’s a muscle deep in your buttock called the Piriformis muscle, and it’s near the sciatic nerve. Sometimes, this muscle can tighten up or spasm, which irritates the nerve. This condition can feel like a disc problem but is usually less severe.
Referred Pain vs. Sciatica
Sometimes, the pain in your leg might not be actual sciatica but referred pain from other parts of your spine. For example, spinal joints might send pain signals to the sciatic nerve. This kind of pain usually doesn’t go below the knee and doesn’t cause pins and needles, numbness, or muscle weakness.Effective Management and Treatment of Sciatica
Taking Control of Your Sciatica
If you suspect you’re dealing with sciatica, here are some steps you can take:
- Stay Active: Avoid excessive rest and engage in gentle exercises like swimming, cycling, or easy walking. Keep moving unless it’s too painful.
- Heat and Anti-Inflammatories: Apply heat to the buttock area for relief. If pain disrupts your sleep or becomes unbearable, consider mild anti-inflammatory medication.
- Seek Expert Advice: Should your symptoms persist or worsen after 3-4 days, consult a healthcare professional experienced in managing sciatica. Early intervention can make a significant difference.
Exploring Treatment Options at the Sussex Back Pain Clinic
At the Sussex Back Pain Clinic, we focus on relieving sciatica by addressing spinal disc pressure and restoring movement in affected segments. Our approach combines manual therapy (osteopathy or physiotherapy), simple exercises, and function restoration.
For severe or non-responsive cases, generally those where you have had sciatica for over 3 months, we offer IDD Therapy Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression, which targets the root cause of the problem and with which we have had remarkable results for patients whose other treatment options had failed.
Diagnosis and Testing for Sciatica
When you visit us, we will thoroughly assess your condition through a detailed case history and a comprehensive examination.
We delve into clinical reasoning, nerve root testing, and evaluate reflexes and muscle strength to pinpoint the cause of your sciatica.
While X-rays are generally unhelpful for diagnosing sciatica, MRI scans can provide valuable insights into spinal disc issues, a common cause of sciatica. However, it’s important to note that MRI findings should always align with the clinical picture for a conclusive diagnosis.
Sciatica can be a complex and often misunderstood condition. Our goal is to provide clarity and guidance to those seeking relief. We hope this information helps you better understand sciatica and empowers you to take control of your health.
Reach Out for Expert Sciatica Support
If you’re experiencing symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your buttock, leg, or foot, don’t hesitate to get in touch for help. We’re here to support you.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns about sciatica or any other health-related issue, feel free to contact us.
We’re here to help.
Take care and be well!
Steve Morris, Sussex Back Pain Clinic Team