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Understanding Sciatica: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

As a physiotherapy clinic, we often encounter patients suffering from sciatica, a condition that causes pain and discomfort in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. Sciatica can significantly impact a person's quality of life, and understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help patients manage their condition effectively. In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive overview of sciatica to help you gain a better understanding of this condition and how physiotherapy can help.

What is it?

Sciatica is characterised by pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve originates from the lower back, runs through the buttocks, and branches down the back of each leg. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated, leading to pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.

Symptoms of Sciatica

The most common symptom of sciatica is pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back of one leg. The pain can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  1. Numbness or tingling in the leg or foot.

  2. Weakness in the affected leg.

  3. Shooting or burning pain that worsens with movement.

  4. Difficulty standing up or walking due to pain.

  5. Pain that is aggravated by sitting or coughing.

It's important to note that sciatica usually affects only one side of the body, and the symptoms can vary in severity depending on the underlying cause and individual factors.

Who can get it?

10-40% of individuals will experience sciatica at least once in their lifetime. The highest rates of sciatica are seen amongst those in their 40s. There is no known association between sciatica incidence and gender.

How does it happen?

Symptoms of sciatica occur when the nerve becomes compressed or irritated. It is important to note that Sciatica is a symptom of an underlying condition, not a diagnosis.

Several factors can contribute to this, including:

  • Lumbar disc bulge or herniation

  • Spinal degenerative changes

  • Muscle imbalances

  • Posture

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

What are the treatment options?

The good news is that most cases of sciatica can be managed effectively with conservative treatment, and physiotherapy can play a crucial role in the management of this condition. Here are some common treatment options:

Management strategies can include:

  • Exercises to improve core strength and spinal mobility

  • Manual therapy involving soft tissue massage and spinal mobility

  • Patient education

  • Lifestyle modifications (if indicated)

  • Medications (chat to your GP!)

  • Heat or Cold therapy

Takehome messages

Sciatica can affect anyone. Symptoms can be mild to severe, and this can affect recovery time.

Sciatica can most often be treated conservatively, with excellent outcomes seen with exercise, manual therapy, lifestyle modifications and education

Sciatica can be treated! Don't be afraid to reach out to a professional to begin your journey to getting back on track as soon as possible.

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