What is sciatica?
Back pain can affect us all at some point. It is often recognised as acute pain if it has developed recently or chronic pain if it has lasted for a number of months. It can sometimes be hard to identify the reason for your back pain, but sciatica it is one condition that can be easily identified by your doctor or physiotherapist.
If you have ever suffered with sciatica you will know how painful and disruptive the symptoms can be to your daily life. Sciatica will normally occur because you have a herniated disc in your lower spine. When your discs get worn down by wear and tear or injury, its soft centre can begin to push out from the hard-outer ring that is there to protect it like a shell.
When your disc herniates, it can put a lot of pressure on all the nerves surrounding it. This is why you are left with a lot of pain, pins and needles, and numbness (often down the side of the leg). The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It runs from your lower back and then splits into your hips, buttocks, legs, and feet on both sides. It can vary in severity from a mild ache to a sharp shooting pain.
What are the early signs and symptoms sciatica?
The some common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Lower back pain
- Pain in your hip
- Pain in your buttocks or leg that often gets worse when you sit down
- A tingling sensation down your leg
- Numbness and weakness in your leg and/or foot
- A constant pain on one side of your buttocks
- Shooting pains down your leg
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica is caused when the sciatic nerve is pinched from a bone spur or a herniated disc. There are a number of conditions that can result in sciatica. These include:
- Degenerative disc disease/ arthritis
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Piriformis syndrome
How is sciatica diagnosed?
When you see your doctor or physiotherapist, the first thing they will do is ask you general questions relating to your back pain. For example: where you encounter the pain, what activities make it better and worse, and whether you have tried any over the counter anti-inflammatory medication.
You will be also asked about your lifestyle, work, sports, and how much time you spend sitting.
After discussing your history, they will give you a physical examination to assess if it is sciatica. Certain movements and tests can easily point to this diagnosis.
If your pain has been ongoing and causing you severe discomfort, they will ask for some imaging tests to be carried out to get a better understanding of the cause.
How is sciatica treated?
After meeting with your doctor or physiotherapist there are a few options to help treat your pain and discomfort. For many, a few weeks with over the counter anti-inflammatory medication and physiotherapy will improve pain enormously.
A physiotherapist will personalise an exercise programme with an aim to take pressure off the sciatic nerve and strengthen your core muscles. They may choose to carry out mobilisations or massage if they feel this may help your symptoms.
Using hot and cold packs a few times a day can also help relieve your pain, too.
If you are still in serve pain after doing physiotherapy for a few weeks, steroid injections may be helpful. Surgery is often a last resort with around 10% of people requiring more invasive treatment.
How long does it take to recover from sciatica?
Most cases of sciatica will improve on their own with rest, time, and patience. Studies show that 80% of sciatica cases will improve within six weeks. There are a few things you can do to help speed up your recovery. These include:
- Using ice and heat therapy
- Regular physiotherapy
- Sitting in a position with a good posture and avoid prolonged sitting
- Stay as active as you can
How physiotherapy can help your sciatica
We will do whatever we can to get you on the fastest route to recovery. Some of the treatment methods we use include:
- Strengthening exercises
- Myofascial trigger point release
- Cross-friction massage
- Stretching and range of movement exercises
- Functional exercises