Almost everyone has heard of sciatica, but as it gets thrown around more, it can be quite unclear as to what it means. As a consequence, we start associating it with any type of back pain with little to no referral into the leg.

Before we do a little myth-busting, let’s outline important symptoms and definitions related to sciatica.

What is sciatica?

Refers to the symptoms from the sciatica nerve, whereby the nerve becomes irritated, sensitized or pressure is placed on it, creating the sharp and shooting pain down the back of your leg or at any point of that nerve.

Symptoms include:

Dominant leg pain, pain that is stronger than any back pain being experienced.
Increased leg pain with coughing, sneezing and/or deep breaths.
Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the affected leg
Sharp or shooting pain felt deep in the buttocks.

Here are some common misconceptions of sciatica.

Pinched nerve is the only cause of sciatica.

Many patients will tell me it’s a pinched nerve! Many think the exit point for the nerve is only a few millimetres but there’s actually a few cm’s – so lots of wiggle room.

As a medical professional those terms might seem benign but for non-medical professionals, terms like this can sound quite frightening. Instead, let’s change the narrative and use safer terminology ie.- “the nerve is more sensitive” or “crowded out area”.

Most people blame the disc for nerve compressions.

There are cases where the disc is to blame and there is now mechanical pressure on the nerve. But it can also linger even after the disc reabsorbs back into the spine and there is residual inflammation affecting the nerve. Alternatively, if it’s not mechanical pressure it could also be due to changes in blood supply to the nerve roots from normal changes as we age = sensitized nerve and not “compressed” as we typically know it as.

Change the narrative “I must have lifted something off the floor to get sciatica”.
Most people think sciatica is from one singular event, like lifting that heavy suitcase or moving houses. Inactivity, certain professions, and prolonged postures that put stress on the sciatic nerve can lead to these symptoms. Other culprits include – pregnancy, accidents and trauma and can affect even the fittest of people.

Treatment of sciatica is not passive – bed rest or surgery is not the only option.

Numerous studies have shown there is little to no benefit staying in bed compared to staying active for people with sciatica.

Surgery is not the only way – long term studies show no difference.

All that we’re saying, is that ‘sciatica’ is not a diagnosis. Whether you have been diagnosed or not, it is important to decipher what is irritating the nerve resulting in leg pain rather than focusing on a diagnostic label.

If you are concerned about your lower back pain, please book in for an Osteopathic appointment; we can work out exactly what is going on; come up with a strategy how to get you moving and comfortable again; and most importantly work out the cause to prevent recurrance.