Sciatica is a word we hear a lot of without really understanding its meaning. It is not a diagnosis but a word used to describe the symptoms of lower back pain combined with leg pain. There are many potential causes of these symptoms, each requiring different types of treatment and management to help the condition.
The vertebra in the spine are each separated by a shock absorber called an intervertebral disc. Each disc has a fibrous outer layer called the annulus which protects and surrounds a jelly-like centre called the nucleus. Trauma, repetitive poor movement patterns, prolonged sitting, or even working with vibrating machinery, can all cause the protective outer layer to weaken allowing the nucleus to seep into this space. If this bulge or “herniation” gets large enough it will begin to irritate the nerves exiting the spine at that level. The nerves in the lower back supply the legs, so any irritation or compression to these nerves results in “sciatic pain” down the leg. Symptoms include pain, cramping, tingling, numbness or pins/needles type sensation as well as weakness of the leg muscles resulting in difficulty walking.
Often disc herniation symptoms can be mimicked by bony structures of the body, including the lumbar spine facet joints and sacroiliac joints of the pelvis. This is called “referred pain”, as it is perceived at a location other than the site of the painful stimulus/origin. An interconnecting network of sensory nerves supply many different tissues around the body. Sometimes the pain signals can be interpreted by the brain as if it’s coming from somewhere else along the nerve rather than the specific site of pain.
As with the joints, muscles of the lower back can refer pain the leg giving rise to sciatic symptoms. One of the most common trigger points (focal knot of muscle fibres) is the gluteus minimus muscle, which classically refers pain from the buttock along the outside of the leg, into the calf and foot.
If you are or know someone suffering with “sciatica”, it is important that they get checked by their GP or Chiropractor to determine what structure is causing their pain. Often, sciatica can be successfully treated with conservative care such as spinal mobilisation, soft tissue work and exercise rehabilitation. However, in some rare cases injections and surgery may be needed.
If you’re not sure give our Chiropractors a call for a free no obligation chat to discuss your symptoms and concerns on 07401 993 334.