The word “sciatica” seems to be thrown around quite often in the physical medicine world but what does it really mean when a clinician tells you that you have sciatica? In this blog post, we’ll define sciatica, talk about signs and symptoms of sciatica, discuss possible causes of sciatica, and finally address some drug-free treatment options.
What is Sciatica?
To begin sciatica is not a diagnosis but a set of symptoms. These symptoms happen when a nerve is pressed on by other structures of the body. An example of this, is the sciatic nerve, hence the name sciatica. This nerve runs between several muscles and travels down the leg. When these nerves are compressed they don’t work properly and these nerves give your body signals that this is happening.
Sciatica Signs, Symptoms, or Signals
Possible signs that you may have sciatica can include the following symptoms:
- Pain traveling down your leg and buttock
- Tingling or pins and needles
- Intense pain in the buttock
- Muscle weakness
- Hot and cold or tingling or burning sensations in the legs
- Reflex impairment
However, these are just signals that you may have sciatica, if you are experiencing these symptoms it’s best to book an assessment with a qualified physiotherapist to discover the root cause of your pain or discomfort.
Causes of Sciatica
The root cause of sciatica is different and varies from person to person. Possible causes of sciatica can include:
- Lumbar disc herniation, when the gel-like substance between the sections of your spine can press on nerves when you age or happen as a result of activity related degeneration
- Spinal stenosis or degenerative causes. Shrinking of space between spinal joints can cause pushing on your nerves
- Piriformis muscle syndrome when tight or overactive muscles that compress your sciatic nerve
- Referred joint pain, when pain signals from your pelvis or hip joint can sometimes mimic or present as sciatica
In rare cases, surgery may be required to alleviate pain. However, an effective treatment plan can improve sciatica symptoms even in patients that are slated for surgery. Each treatment plan is unique to each patient’s needs but can include:
- Stretching and strengthing exercises
- Habit changes or behaviour modification
- Patient education
- Massage therapy
A targeted treatment plan can effectively treat the symptoms of sciatica. There are even times when patients that need surgery respond well to appropriate exercises and treatment prescribed by a physiotherapist.
What should I do?
Staying active is very important to continue to stay healthy even after getting sciatica symptoms. It is safe to exercise even with sciatica symptoms, however, there may be exercises that are more effective than others and certain exercises that should be avoided specific to your diagnosis. This is where asking the advice of a physiotherapist may be helpful in giving you appropriate direction.
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