Sciatica – diagnosis and treatment
The term ‘sciatica’ is usually used by people describing the general symptom of pain in the leg.
It does however have a very much more specific medical definition.
‘True’ sciatica is pain down the back of the leg in the area that the sciatic nerve controls. This can be from just the back part of the gluteal area to the whole back part of the leg and under the bottom of the foot to the big toe. It might only be in isolated parts of that area as opposed to the whole length of the leg.
The causes are many and varied but rarely life-threatening.
Sciatica can be caused by a strain in one or more of the joints in the lower spine causing inflammation. This inflammation chemically irritates the sciatic nerve causing the pain.
It can be caused by physical pressure on the nerve, for example, something close to the nerve putting direct compression on it. The physical pressure can be (among other things) inflammation, a tight local muscle or a bulging / prolapsed disc.
In people who have spinal degeneration, sciatica can be as a result of spinal inflammation known as spondylitis. This is occasionally accompanied by extra bone growth on the edges of the vertebrae. Sometimes it can be due to the narrowing of the gaps in the spinal column where the nerve roots emerge known as spondylosis. These conditions are more common with age but sometimes they can come on prematurely after significant injury (like a sporting injury or road traffic accident).
When there is physical pressure on a nerve or nerve root as in disc injuries or spondylosis / spondylitis, the amount of time the nerve is under pressure will determine the level of any damage. It also governs the length of time you experience discomfort.
Prolonged, constant pressure on the nerve or roots of the nerve leads to any of the following: semi permanent or permanent pain, tingling, numbness, weakness or paralysis of parts of the leg. Severe nerve root pressure will cause muscle wasting and take longer to recover from.
Finding out the cause and getting the correct treatment is really important. Taking pain killers or anti-inflammatory medication will help reduce the pain but not necessarily solve the cause. If the root cause of sciatica is not found, masking the problem with pain killers or other medication may make things worse in the long-run.
Most of the time, the cause of sciatica is nothing to worry about. Commonly, spinal strains, muscle tightness and inflammation are the causes. Many people suffering from sciatica will experience rapid relief from their symptoms with common osteopathic treatment. Stretching muscles, improving circulation and increasing the movement of the area often brings a quick recovery.
You do not need to be scared of sciatica, it is not just something to put up with. An osteopathic consultation and treatment can help you put your mind at rest. An osteopath will be able to tell when there is a significant problem. More often than not, sciatica turns out to be something that can be easily treated. On average, sciatic pain reduces significantly within four sessions. Sometimes it can take longer to resolve completely. Occasionally, pain is almost gone in only two or three treatments.
If you cannot move enough to get out of your house, here are some easy things to do.
Ice packs help to increase blood flow and combat pain. (see ‘using ice’ here)
Gentle movement helps to keep circulation working properly and distracts from the pain.
Pulling the knees up towards the chest stretches the muscles and makes space for the nerve. (see ‘lower back stretch’ here)
Experiencing sciatica now?
Then book an appointment as soon as you can to get to the bottom of the problem and get out of pain.