The term ‘sciatica’ refers to pain, inflammation and neurological sensations associated with the sciatic nerve, most commonly presenting itself as pain radiating down the back of the leg. It most commonly occurs when a herniated disk or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the sciatic nerve. The pain can be described as anything from a dull ache to a shooting pain that can leave the person momentarily incapacitated.
Although the pain associated with sciatica can be severe, the majority of cases resolve within a few weeks. However, some people who have severe sciatica, that’s associated with significant leg weakness, or bowel or bladder changes may require surgical intervention.
Symptoms Of Sciatica
People experiencing sciatica may have a number of symptoms that could include any one or more of the following:
Throbbing pain in the lower back, buttocks or legs while sitting.
Pain in the buttock or down the leg.
Tingling, pins and needles or numbness in the calf or foot.
Difficulty in moving or controlling the leg.
Lower back pain that is exacerbated when you cough or sneeze, or when driving in the car.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sometimes people are unaware that their symptoms relate to sciatica so it is helpful to understand what causes it. There can be a number of underlying conditions contributing to the pain associated with sciatica these may include.
A herniated or prolapsed disc in the lower back (the most common cause)
Growths within the spine
Spinal Stenosis (a narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine)
Piriformis Syndrome (spasm of the piriformis muscle located in the buttock region)
Trauma to the lower back
Pregnancy is also a common factor as during pregnancy the pelvis and lower back are placed under pressure as the baby grows.
Risk factors for sciatica include:
Age-related changes in the spine, such as herniated disks and bone spurs, are the most common causes of sciatica.
By increasing the stress on your spine, excess body weight can contribute to the spinal changes that trigger sciatica.
A job that requires you to twist your back, carry heavy loads or drive a motor vehicle for long periods might play a role in sciatica.
Prolonged sitting. People who sit for prolonged periods or have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica than active people are.
How is Sciatica Diagnosed?
Your Osteopath can diagnose Sciatica after taking a detailed medical history and physical examination. MRI and other imaging are not normally required unless your symptoms are severe and we suspect that a corticosteroid injection or surgery may be required. If this is the case, your Osteopath will make a referral to an Orthopaedic specialist and request an MRI.
Complications of Sciatica
Although most people recover fully from sciatica, sciatica can potentially cause permanent nerve damage. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any loss of bowel or bladder function.
How Can Osteopathy Help Sciatica?
An Osteopath relives the symptoms of Sciatica by seeking out the underlying cause of the pain. In most cases, sciatic nerve pain can be improved by decreasing muscle spasms, improving joint mobility and overall spinal functional movement, thereby relieving stress on the affected areas. Treatments may include a combination of manual joint manipulation or articulation, muscle, or tendon manipulation to reduce pressure on the Sciatic Nerve.
Once the initial pain has been reduced, an Osteopathic treatment approach will include focusing on recovery exercises and rehabilitation methods with a view to preventing further episodes. This will involve an exercise regime that aims to restore mobility, build postural strength and encourage muscle activation.
Lorraine Herity is the Clinic Director of Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch, New Zealand. She previously worked in Osteopathic clinics in London and Ireland, before moving to New Zealand. Lorraine trained at the British School of Osteopathy in London, where she gained her Master of Osteopathy (M.Ost). Lorraine is a dedicated and passionate Osteopath. Her main aim is to help her patients regain their health, and to return her patients back to their everyday activities, in as quick a time as possible.