Sciatica – What Really Is Sciatica?

Sciatica’s literal translation is pain along the sciatic nerve or irritation/inflammation along that nerve. The sciatic nerve is a long nerve that starts in your low back and and is actually formed form a whole bunch of nerves of the low back to create one big thick nerve. It the runs into the buttock, down the leg between the hamstrings, into the calf and ends in the long nerves of the feet.

Most often when people say they have ‘sciatica’ they mean they have pain, tingling, numbness, burning or weakness down this nerve often to the calf or into the foot/toes. Sciatica can also present with pain/discomfort in the hip, low back, buttock or the classic leg pain. What is missing from this ‘I have sciatica’ statement is what is causing the sciatica and this is actually the most important part of the picture.

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There are many ways that someone can get ‘Sciatica’ or pain along the nerve and knowing what your cause is will direct your treatment and allow you to achieve much improved results when that treatment is directed at the ‘root cause.’ Some of the causes of sciatica include:

  1. Disc Herniation – a disc herniation or ‘slipped disc’ occurs when the discs of the spine that absorb shock and forces bulge outside their normal range and can hit the exiting nerves. Also disc injuries create a lot of inflammation and irritation which also contributes to the irritation of the exiting nerves and can produce sciatica.
  2. Facet ‘Joint’ Irritation – irritation of joints of the low back can cause inflammation and irritation in the area and can then put pressure on that sciatic nerve creating sciatica.
  3. Piriformis Syndrome – this is where the sciatic nerve exits the bum and can get irritated from tight muscles, inflammation in the area and or overuse. In 15% of the population the sciatic nerve actually pierces through the Piriformis muscle – although we often only know this with advanced imaging or after someone has passed. In Piriformis syndrome often the muscle is very tight, restricted and is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  4. Spondylolisthesis – quite rare condition of the spine where there is some movement of the actual spine and in some instances it can put pressure on the exiting nerves that form the sciatic nerve resulting in sciatica.
  5. Tension on the nerve between muscles – the hamstrings or other muscles around the sciatic nerve. In between the hamstrings, in the back of the knee and in the side of the calf are other places where muscle tension or inflammation can cause irritation of the sciatic nerve.
  6. Pregnancy – or swelling in the lower limb. Generally swelling that occurs often in the later stages of pregnancy as well as the pressure of the baby on the sacral nerves can cause irritation of that sciatic nerve. As the baby gets bigger or moves further down this can worsen the sciatic symptoms.
  7. General Inflammation/Irritation of the area – as with the above causes that can create irritation and inflammation if one has this in the area it can cause that sciatic irritation. Some other causes of irritation/inflammation can be overuse with sports, lack of proper range/mobility creating stiffness or systemic causes like arthritis or systemic inflammation.

If you are currently getting treatment for sciatica and your therapist can not tell you what the root cause is of your sciatica is then in effect the treatment is not specific enough and you would benefit from finding out the root cause. Our chiropractors at Live Free are fully trained in diagnosing musculoskeletal conditions like sciatica and finding the root cause to not only get you better quicker, but also aim treatment at preventing it from returning in the future. Call reception today to book your initial exam and treatment 0208 780 0898 or email