Physiotherapy for Sciatica
Sore butt? Painful legs? Can't sit down for long? Could be sciatic pain.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a type of pain that occurs when something in your body pinches, irritates or inflames your sciatic nerve's origin in your lower spine.
It's not really a condition but rather a particular type of pain. It falls under the broader categories of neuropathy (nerve problems) and radicular pain (pain due to an irritated nerve root – in this case, the sciatic nerve).
The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the human body measuring about 2 cm wide. Starting in your lower back, one sciatic nerve sets off down your left side while its twin moves down your right, through your buttock and down the back of your leg until it reaches your foot.
This big nerve does a big job. It enables you to move your hamstrings above your knee and your calf muscles below it. It also supplies sensation, giving you feeling in your lower legs and feet.
What is sciatic pain like?
Sciatica pain tends to follow the path of the sciatic nerve, causing trouble anywhere from your butt to your feet. It varies quite a bit from one person to another but is usually only felt on one side of your body.
If you’ve developed sciatic pain, you might experience:
- Mild or severe pain down the sciatic nerve pathway
- Tingling / pins and needles
- A sharp, burning sensation
- Worsening symptoms when you cough, sneeze or sit still for too long.
Occasionally, sciatica is more serious. You need urgent medical attention if:
- You start to lose control of your bladder or bowels
- You feel weak or numb or are in severe pain.
Tell me about referred pain and sciatica
Referred pain is fascinating. It means that you might feel pain in one area of your body when the true problem is somewhere else.
That experience can happen when messages from different parts of your body travel the same nerve pathway, just like 3 cars heading to different places may share the same stretch of motorway for a while.
Referred pain means that a heart attack may cause pain in the left arm. It means a throbbing headache may actually indicate a neck problem. And it means a problem in your spine can cause pain in your leg.
As mentioned above, sciatica is a type of radicular pain that happens when something pinches or irritates the sciatic nerve’s origins in your lower back. Looked at like that, sciatica is actually a symptom of something else. There’s often an underlying problem that has triggered sciatica.
That’s why, when we treat sciatica, we’re not only trying to deal with your symptoms but to identify and treat the underlying condition that’s causing the sciatic pain.
What causes sciatica?
Your spine is made up of bony building blocks called vertebrae. They sit on top of each other with a spongy cushion in between called a disc.
Running through the hollow centre of this spinal column is your spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that connect your brain to your body (your central nervous system). Your peripheral nervous system then connects your central nervous system to the rest of your body. The sciatic nerve is part of this peripheral nervous system. It’s job is to help you move and feel your lower body.
Sciatic pain occurs if a nerve branch is irritated where it exits the spine. There are a few places where this happens. The location of your pain relates to which nerve branch has been impinged.
Many different lifestyle habits or medical conditions can lead to sciatica. A few of the most common are:
- A slipped disc
- Spondylolisthesis (a slipped vertebrae)
- Piriformis syndrome (tight or swollen muscles in your backside)
- Pregnancy (the baby’s weight can put pressure on the nerve).
Sometimes it’s hard to identify the underlying cause, which can be frustrating.
Sciatic pain affects a wide range of people but tends to be more common if you:
- Are getting older since wear and tear over the years can change your spine (osteoarthritis)
- Are overweight as that means your spine has to work harder to support you
- Sit still a lot
- Have done a lot of heavy lifting or twisting, increasing your risk of back injuries.
How long does sciatica last?
The duration is as varied as the symptoms, unfortunately. Some people find that their sciatic pain resolves relatively quickly and are able to get back to normal in a few weeks or months.
Others experience chronic sciatica pain that’s always there in the background, though the pain is often less severe.
So, how do you deal with sciatica?
You can start with at-home treatments like:
- Over-the-counter pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen
- Icing initially then using heat packs
- Reducing your activity during a flare-up but not for too long as lengthy inactivity will make sciatica worse
- Doing some stretches to strengthen your lower back and hips.
If sciatica persists, then it’s worth seeing your GP. Treatment may include:
- Medications to manage pain or relax muscles
- Physiotherapy treatment and exercises to improve your posture, strength and flexibility
- Surgery to remove bone spurs or slipped discs that are compressing the nerve (used only in serious cases).
How does physiotherapy help with sciatica?
A physiotherapist can examine you, rule out other potential causes and identify the underlying condition that may be triggering your sciatic pain. Your physio can then work with you to treat the underlying cause and relieve your symptoms through education, exercises and advice.
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Why Choose Sycamore Health?
Two Convenient Locations in Morayfield and Sippy Downs
Easy online bookings: we offer a straight-forward online booking system so that you can book your appointment in seconds, no matter the time of day.
Same-day appointments: we understand that sometimes you need to be seen by our team as soon as possible, so we keep a number of appointments each day for those who need help urgently.
Private treatment rooms: our treatment is provided one-on-one in private rooms to make sure you are comfortable.
A range of physiotherapy services: we offer a range of physiotherapy services, including hands-on treatment, custom home exercise programs, gym-based rehabilitation and tailored advice.
Qualified, highly-trained physiotherapists: our team of physiotherapists are all highly-skilled and fully qualified.
Customised therapies: we know that your situation is unique and will tailor your program and exercises to suit you.