What is it?

Sciatica is a term that describes leg pain due to irritation from the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. It is an extremely common presenting complaint in our practices, one that can present as mild pain, however can also be severe and debilitating, making it hard to get up or even walk!

The sciatic nerve runs the length of the leg, hence pain can be felt from the low back, into the buttocks and down into the foot. Generally speaking, the further down the leg and foot the pain is felt, the greater the irritation of the sciatica nerve. The leg pain – called radiculopathy – can often be more painful than the back pain.

Pain can be caused for many reasons, however the most common causes we see in practice include;

  • Irritation of the nerve due to a disc bulge causing compression of the nerve and swelling surrounding the nerve root
  • Irritation of the nerve due to degeneration of the joints and ligaments surrounding the nerve in your low back, again causing swelling around the nerve root

What can you do to help yourself?

  1. Stretch your gluteal (buttock) muscles. Tight gluteal muscles may cause more load on an already irritated sciatic nerve, perhaps causing stronger leg pain. Stretching the gluteal muscles may ease the load on the nerve, and hopefully the leg symptoms. We have a great gluteal stretch on our website.
  2. Stretch the front of your hips (hip flexors muscles) – if tight, these muscles can cause compression and an increasing loading of the lower back – this may cause further irritation of the nerves, leading to symptoms into the leg.
  3. Improve mobility in your mid back (Thoracic spine) – Why you ask when the cause of sciatica is from the low back? The thoracic spine or mid back should have the most rotational range of movement in the spine – however a lot of us have a very stiff mid back due to our work (think prolonged sitting) and lifestyle – as such it is the low back that will have an increase in loading – this may cause greater irritation of the nerves.
  4. Avoid long periods of sitting – the worst thing to do if you have sciatica (for all the reasons above), and quite possibly one of the causes of sciatic pain symptoms in the first place
  5. Stay ACTIVE – BUT – the right ACTIVITY. Do’s: Stay upright, walk as much as you can, limit sitting postures, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Don’ts: Prolonged sitting, bending from the waist, inactivity.

Sciatica can be debilitating – if your symptoms are not helped with the above tips, please call us and speak to one of our Osteopaths for further advice.