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What is sciatica?

'Sciatica' is a term used to describe the symptoms of irritation or compression to the sciatic nerve, or one of the spinal nerve roots which form the sciatic nerve. The symptoms of sciatica occur in the low back, buttock, or leg, and can be felt as pain, numbness, weakness, 'pins and needles' and even difficulty with controlling movement of the leg.

The irritation or compression usually occurs in the lumbar spine (low back) or the buttock, and individual symptoms will vary depending on the location of the affected nerve or nerves.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica can have a number of causes, and it's important that your physiotherapist takes a thorough history and assessment of your body to determine the cause of your symptoms. In this way they will be able to personalise the best treatment approach for you. In some cases it may be necessary to have a scan such as an x-ray, MRI, or CT done to determine the specific pathology behind your symptoms.

Nerve Root Compression - The nerves travelling from your lumbar spine to your lower limbs passes through small holes (foramen) as they exit the spine. A number of conditions can decrease the size of these foramen, resulting in compression of the nerve roots and leading to symptoms or sciatica.

Piriformis Syndrome - The sciatic nerve normally passes under the piriformis muscle. In about 15% of the population, the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis in the buttock. Spasm or tightness in this muscle can compress the sciatic nerve, leading to symptoms.

What is the treatment for sciatica?

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. There is commonly a strong muscular component with sciatica, and a hands-on approach which specifically targets the dysfunctional muscles around the low back and pelvis will be essential initially to give best results. In most cases of sciatica, the muscles of your low back, pelvis, and lower limbs will have some level of tightness and dysfunction. Soft tissues release is an effective way to lengthen tight, sore muscles as well as targeting the tissue around the muscle (fascia). This type of strategy will help reduce pain allowing your muscles to function more effectively.

Neural mobilisation and joint mobilisation techniques may also be used to correct the biomechanics of your spine and neural tissue (nerves) in order to allow them to move the way they were intended to.

It is important that your physiotherapist explains the specific cause of your sciatica and then backs this up by teaching you how to start managing the targeted problems. To ease and then prevent your symptoms long term you will want to be taken through strength exercises as well as stretching programs. These will focus on muscle as well as nerve length. In conjunction it is essential to be taught self recovery strategies such as trigger pointing so you can be empowered to understand and prevent pain returning long term.

If you, a friend or family member would like to know more about the treatment options available for sciatica, please don't hesitate to contact us on 07 3847 8040 or inquire online here.