Sciatica is pain felt along the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back, down through the buttock, hamstrings and into the lower leg.
Sciatica is characterised by pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs. The pain is typically a dull ache, or can be a shooting pain down the leg, affecting the foot, calf, or back of the thigh, and usually comes on after a few weeks of low back pain. Eventually the leg pain becomes worse than the back pain, it can last for several days or weeks, or it can subside. However someone who has had sciatica for a long period of time will find that the pain localises in the buttock and thigh. In severe cases it can damage nerves and reflexes, or cause the calf muscle to deteriorate.
While the diagnosis of sciatica is reasonably simple, the primary cause of your sciatica may require further investigation, and to determine how significant your sciatic nerve has been compressed.
‘Pressure on the Sciatic nerve can result from a number of reasons including:
- Tightness of the deep muscles in the buttock that compresses the sciatic nerve
- Spinal/vertebral dysfunction, Osteoarthritis or osteoporosis
- Herniated disc, disc prolapse
- Poor posture – prolonged sitting, poor mattress
- Poor lifting technique and poor bending habits
Osteopathy has an essential role both for the acute episode as well as long term avoidance of further episodes. The main objectives of osteopathic treatment are:
- Reduce pain
- Restore movement
- Strengthen weakened muscles
- Reduce tension
- Prevent recurrence
It is very important that the patient is an active participant in the treatment process and understands the importance of staying active. Typical sciatica treatments include:
- Gentle Spinal mobilisation of the lower lumbar spine to help relieve pain and improve function
- Release of muscle spasm
- Traction of Lumbar spine manually
- Massage to help reduce muscle tension and pain and improve blood flow
- Hot and cold packs to reduce pain and stiffness
- Advice in relation to how to minimise pressure and irritation of the sciatic nerve – teaching correct postural techniques, and exercises to correct any muscle imbalance in the spine
- Posture supports, lumbar roll
- Exercise prescription to stretch and strengthen the muscles of your back, shoulders, and stomach to help increase your flexibility, strength, and balance. The Osteopath may teach you an exercise program so you can do it at home.
- Patient education – self-management techniques will ultimately help you to achieve your goal of safely returning to your previous sporting or leisure activities without sciatica.
- Rehabilitation is very important to prevent the pain from becoming chronic. Many patients are relieved from their sciatica after a 4 to 5 visits and some patients benefit in maintaining care regularly because it keeps their bodies in optimum condition.