I’ve got sciatica, what can I do?

We commonly see patients in clinic presenting with sciatic pain that is often described as a deep, gnawing pain from the back or the buttock and into the back or side of the leg that is sometimes electric, shooting or stabbing. It can occur without lower back pain, and sometimes it can cause a limp when walking.

Sciatica is a very painful condition that can be grouped with a family of pains called neuralgia. Neuralgia literally means "pain with a neurological cause", or pain that is due to nerve problems – but that's not enough to make a diagnosis.

We commonly see many primary health care practitioners use the phrase 'sciatica' as a diagnosis, but the word sciatica merely means the patient has pain in the leg, rather than be a proper analysis of the cause of the pain. To get to the root cause of the pain, we need to look at what can cause sciatica?

Is all sciatica the same?

Several different things can cause sciatica. Possibly the most common cause of sciatica is when one of the nerve roots that combine to create the sciatic nerve get pinched or compressed where they exit the spine. This can be caused by several things including a bulging or herniated disc; inflammation and muscle spasm from simple mechanical back pain; from structural changes such as traumatic injury and fracture or an overgrowth of bone following a long history of degeneration.

Sciatica can also occur when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed where it travels through the gluteal muscle group in your backside if they are tight. A small percentage of the population also has a small anatomical anomaly, where the sciatic nerve pierces a small muscle in the glute complex called piriformis – this is known as piriformis syndrome, but thankfully it's quite rare.

Why do you have pain?

The re-occurring theme between these two leading causes of sciatica is compression of the nerve coming from the spine, commonly referred to as a trapped nerve. The compression, or trap, causes the signals being sent back to the brain via the nerve to be misinterpreted as pain.

How do you know what type of sciatica you have?

We can help you find out! Osteopaths are trained in simple orthopaedic and neurological testing, and we will test all the different structures and tissues in your body that may be compressing the sciatic nerve to help us determine the root cause of your sciatic pain.

Once we have determined the exact cause of your sciatic pain, it will be much easier to work out an effective treatment plan tailored to your unique needs to help reduce pain and get you back to doing the things you enjoy.
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