Sciatica…a big pain in the back?

The term sciatica is often interchangeable with lower back pain. Yet sciatica is a very specific form of back pain with a variation of symptoms.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body. It starts at the root of the lower back and extends in the back of the foot.

In sciatica, something presses on or irritates the sciatic nerve (hence the name.)

This could be a herniated disc ‘slipped disc,’ which is common in the lower back secondary to pressure and general wear and tear, it could be spasm or tightness of the surrounding muscles – which often occurs to protect the spine itself or it could be disease of the back such as in spinal stenosis (stiffening of the back in to a straight line.)

When the nerve is irritated, it shoots the whole length down to the foot giving shooting pains, cramping or aching. This is why many people with sciatica feel pain in the back of their leg despite the problem arising in the lower back.

If you believe that you are suffering with sciatica go to see your doctor. They may offer an x-ray and some light exercises to increase your mobility. Do not be tempted to sit completely still in the hope that the pain will go away (unless specified by your physician.) Immobility can cause cramping of the muscles around the sciatic nerve, pressing further on to it and self perpetuating the problem.

In 80-90% of people, the sciatica independently resolves over time. Be patient and do not despair. Most commonly it occurs in your 30-50s.

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