Sciatica is the term given to describe symptoms caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is formed from spinal nerves exiting the lower back and runs through the buttock and down the back of both legs.
Any pain or symptom experienced along this nerve is referred to as ‘sciatica
Common symptoms include:
One sided pain that may be felt in the lower back, buttock, hip and leg. It may also radiate to the foot and/or toes
Pain that can be described as severe, burning, sharp, tingling, searing
Weakness and or numbness in the leg, foot and toes
Is Sciatica a diagnosis or symptom?
Sciatica is not a diagnosis, merely a symptom falling under the umbrella term of ‘low back pain’. The original injury that is causing the sciatica is actually the correct diagnosis. Common causes include:
Lumbar disc herniation
Degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis
Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine)
Nerve entrapment e.g. from tight musculature surround the lumbosacral area
Muscle imbalances and tightness
I have leg pain and symptoms, but not back pain. Is this still Sciatica?
Most sciatic pain is treated and managed with conservative treatment.
As sciatica can be caused by a range of different issues as described above, it is important that an appropriate assessment is performed to provide specific treatment. Not all sciatic pain is the same!
It is quite common for the lower back to be the source of the sciatic leg pain, but the person will fell zero pain in the lower back. Yes, you read that correctly. Zero.
You must remember that pain is technically only a sensation that we interpret in our brain.
With billions of nerve endings in our body, our brain sometimes jumbles these signals, and we ‘ feel’ pain in a place that may not be the actual source. This can be very confusing for some patients ( and some therapists at times!)
Our physiotherapists are experienced in providing effective treatment plans for people suffering from sciatica. We offer a range of treatments, which may include:
Advice and education about the condition and how to manage the symptoms, generally exercise and staying active rather than bed rest
Strengthening exercises for supporting muscles e.g. lower back, core, hip
Stretching exercises for tight muscles
Hands on treatment for stiff joints and/or tight muscles
An individualised exercises program for self-management and future prevention.
Most cases of sciatica resolve by themselves within six weeks to three months and aren’t serious. Very rarely, a surgical technique known as micro-discectomy is required, to remove a small piece of disc that has fully compressed the nerve.
Don’t let MRI scans fool you though. It is completely normal to have a ‘disc bulge’ on MRI. You’re more likely to have one than not! Only the most severe of the extreme cases are a surgical solution.
It is quite common to clear people’s symptoms that have been told they have 3 disc bulges, facet joint arthritis and nerve compression on imaging, but end up functioning perfectly well and comfortably.
The main treatment focus needs to be on the person and their symptoms and goals, and not the imaging findings. The scan results are a only a piece of the diagnostic puzzle, not the absolute answer.
For questions as to whether physiotherapy is the best solution to your sciatica problem, please contact your nearest Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy clinic to discuss your treatment options with one of our physiotherapists.
If you have sustained an injury from playing tennis or are just keen on a targeted, individualised injury prevention program book in with one of our Physiotherapists today!
Melbourne Sports Physio has a range of qualified and experienced professionals who can help provide ongoing support and treatment. Our friendly team are located in across Melbourne in Essendon, North Melbourne and Blackburn South, and appointments can be made by calling or booking online.