Have you ever experienced a deep, ripping pain that starts in your buttocks and shoots down the back of your leg? Sometimes the pain comes on gradually and gnaws at you. Other times it comes on quite suddenly and feels like a burning sensation or like the pins and needles tingling reaction you get when you sit in the same position for too long.
Hello sciatica. Who knew you could be such an enormous pain in the back (and leg)!
The wrath of sciatica
Here’s an interesting fact: the sciatic nerve – which originates from the spinal cord and passes between the disc spaces from the spine into the buttock, the back of the thigh and leg – is actually the longest nerve in the body. So it’s probably no surprise sciatica is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions, affecting countless Australians.
The pain can vary – from mild for some, to extremely painful and quite debilitating for others. Some find the pain makes it difficult to carry out basic daily activities like lifting. Even coughing can make the pain feel worse. Others say they struggle to get comfortable in any position.
Sciatica hurts. But why?
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched or damaged. This could be as a result of a herniated or bulging disc or bone spurs in the vertebrae.
And, because it is the longest nerve in the body, sciatica can affect almost any part of the nerve pathway – from the lower back to the thighs, calves and buttocks.
If your job requires you to lift heavy loads, you’re physically inactive or you tend to sit for long periods, you’re said to be more at risk of developing sciatica.
Tips to tame the pain
Here’s some good news: for most people, their sciatica will resolve itself (within weeks for some, months for others). Feeling impatient? There are some things you can do to help ease the pain.
Rest is always a good idea but, be warned, it’s believed prolonged bedrest can exacerbate your sciatica. Regular exercise and proper posture are thought to be more beneficial, particularly in preventing sciatica.
Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications, an ice or heat pack, and massage may also help.
The not so good news: in certain circumstances, surgery may be recommended to treat the cause of the sciatic pain, such as a herniated disc.
Stretch the pain away with physiotherapy
Physiotherapy treatment is an effective way to relieve sciatica pain by alleviating the muscle tension in the back, legs and buttocks.
An experienced physiotherapist will take a deep dive into your history and symptoms to determine the likely cause of your sciatica. They’ll be able to recommend the right stretches and strengthening exercises to ease your pain – and the ones to avoid making your pain worse! They’ll also advise how to prevent your sciatica from returning.
Before you go: sciatica originates in the lower back, and back pain is one of the most commonly reported forms of pain. If that’s the case for you, head over to our website and download your free copy of our ebook “The 10 most effective exercises for lower back pain”.