Sciatica is a general term used to describe a sensation of pain (as well as possibly numbness and weakness) down either leg caused by an injury in the lower back or pelvic area. It is caused by compression (or 'pinching') of the sciatic nerve (or the 'roots' of the nerve) that runs down the back of the leg. This compression of the nerve can be caused by a number of different conditions and so it is important that the cause of the problem is identified first, so that treatment can be effective. In other words, people who suffer from sciatica will not all be treated in the same way.
Some conditions that can cause sciatic pain include:
A bulging or prolapsed disc in the lumbar spine (if severe enough) can compress the nerve fibers as they exit the spinal column. This compression of the nerves can send pain shooting down the leg as far down as the foot and can also cause numbness and weakness in the leg. Pain can (but not always) also be felt in the lower back.
Gluteal muscle tightness:
The sciatic nerve runs down through the buttock region and sits very closely next to some muscles of this region. Therefore, when these muscles become injured or tense, they can 'squeeze' the nerve and thus send pain running down the leg. Usually in these cases, pain will be felt from the buttock downwards with no lower back pain.
Dorsal Ramus Syndrome:
This is a very specific condition where there is an injury to one of the joints on the side of the spine. This injury will stimulate part of the nerve that exits the spinal column and send referred pain to the back, groin and hip regions. Usually with this condition pain will not travel down any further than the knee level.
Narrowing of the 'holes' where the nerves exit the spine can also cause compression of the nerve and thus send pain down the leg in a similar way that a bulging disc can cause sciatic pain.
Sciatica may also occur during pregnancy as a result of the weight of the baby pressing on the sciatic nerve during sitting or during leg spasms. It is important to note that no harm can come to the baby in these cases and once he or she is delivered (or changes position inside the womb); the mother will no longer experience the pain. If the sciatic nerve compression is causing weakness of the leg and balance issues, a walking aid (crutches or walking stick) may be needed to prevent a possible fall.
Treatment of sciatic nerve pain will vary form case to case, depending on the cause of the pain. Physiotherapists are trained to be able to correctly diagnose the exact cause of the condition and set up an appropriate treatment plan to remedy the problem.
Some treatments may involve specific lower back stretching exercises, hands-on joint or muscle mobilisation/massage, specific nerve stretches and Pilates based core strengthening exercises.
For more information on the conditions we treat and services we offer, or to book an appointment please call (03)9790 4266 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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