What is Sciatica?

Do you know Sciatica

Do you know what sciatica is? What is the sciatic nerve? Where is it? Why does it get irritated and cause you pain? Well here you can find out and really get to know sciatica.

Right lets start with some of the basics. The chances are that you or someone you know has what they suspect to be sciatic pain, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be here reading this! So who is the most common sciatic pain sufferer?

Who suffers sciatic pain?

Back problems reportedly affect 16% of the population of Australia, that’s 14 million people in Australia alone!! This category of Back problem includes sciatic as one of the 3 categories, sciatica, disc disorders and non-specific back pain. This comes from a report by the national health survey from 2017-2018.  You can find out more about other back pain here.

So who actually gets sciatica or sciatic pain?

Chances are if you are a sciatic pain sufferer or believe you have sciatica then you probably fall into one of these categories:

  • Over 25 years of age – especially common in men in the 55 – 64 age group and women 65 – 74. 
  • You have a 1% higher chance if you are male (not much in the gender divide here!)
  • There isn’t much variation relation to where you live or how well off you are.
  • Desk based workers suffer worse than other groups. Sciatic pain is also fairly common in the trades, especially those who are regularly lifting or bent over.
  • Lastly and somewhat ironically Osteopaths, Chiropractors, physical therapists and masseuses are all in the high risk category. They however are less prone to the injury as they are more aware of the risks and avoid them.

So what exactly is sciatica?

Sciatic pain or sciatica is simply described as a a noxious (unpleasant) stimulus to the sciatic nerve. This could be compression of the nerve, damage to the nerve or restriction of the nerve’s movement (yes nerves move a bit!).

But I don’t even really know what the sciatic nerve is I hear you say! Well let me tell you. The sciatic nerve is the continuation of the sacral nerve roots (the bottom nerves of the spinal cord). These nerves come together to form the biggest nerve in the human body. This nerve called the sciatic nerve, runs down from your lower back through the buttock and into the back of your upper leg. Above the back of your knee it splits into 2 branches and runs the rest of the way down the leg and into the foot.

It looks like this:

So why does it hurt?

When a nerve is “threatened”, as we say in the industry, it produces signals to the brain. Depending on the nerve, the signals can range from pins and needles or tingling through the intense pain. So in short if you have any of these symptoms coming from the area in the leg I described earlier you can probably assume you have a version of sciatic pain. 

However, there are some other nasties that can happen in the same area so always best to play it safe and get it checked out by your friendly neighbourhood osteopath.

The things that can cause your sciatic pain include compression of the nerve by a muscle in your body, in very rare cases a space occupying lesion such as a benign or malignant tumour, a local swelling from a bruise or other local tissue trauma or a problem at the level of the nerve root itself at the spine.

So what can we do about it and how can we stop it from happening again?

The first thing to do is to make sure it is sciatic pain caused by a non-malicious cause – See an osteopath for an accurate diagnosis or referral for an appropriate imaging or other testing if required.

Second on the list is probably soft tissue massage to relax angry muscles that may be pressing on the nerve. Often if seeing an osteopath this will be coupled with manipulation at the levels of the lumbar spine where the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve emerge. That’s back clicking in simple language!

Thirdly we would want to figure out what caused your pain to happen in the first place. This could be movement patterns at work in sports or at home. It could be posture and positioning at work, or it could be injury. Once we figure out the reason we can advise you how to address this issue and set you straight for preventing it from happening again in the future.

Part of this will be advise on stretching techniques for mobility and activities that will strengthen you.

I hope now that you’ve had a read through here about sciatic pain and sciatica you truly do know your sciatica! I also hope that if you or a family member, friend or colleague is suffering and all they have to deal with their sciatica is painkillers you might want to refer them to see us here at move osteopathy. Here we can help not just put a bandage on the problem but fix it for good and give you/them the tools to stop it from happening again.

This blog piece was written by Osteopath Dr Nick Foulds – check out his profile here. Nick works at our New Farm and City Clinics Monday – Friday