What is the Sciatic Nerve?

The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the body. It branches from the lower portion of the spinal cord and passes through the hips and buttocks and down both legs.


What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the term given to pain along the course of this nerve. Sciatica develops when there is some compression of the sciatic nerve. This may occur as a result of a disc herniation, bone spur or spinal stenosis. This compression often leads to inflammation and pain. There may also be associated numbness, tingling or weakness of the affected leg.

Pain may be present anywhere along the sciatic nerve pathway but most commonly presents as a pain from the lower spine to the buttock, back of the thigh or the calf. Sciatica will usually affect one side of the body only. The pain can range from mild to severe and may present as a boring sensation or an electric shock.

Pain is often elicited by increased abdominal pressure such as coughing/sneezing or bearing down. Pain may also be aggravated by long periods of sitting. While it can affect any age group, sciatica is most common in people aged between 40 and 60.


Diagnosis & Treatment

Sciatic pain can be severe but it usually resolves with conservative management within a couple of weeks. Your physiotherapist will arrive at a diagnosis of sciatica by taking a detailed history and performing a thorough physical examination. Patients often expect that a scan will be required however this is not the case in routine management. Having a scan does not lead to better outcomes and some studies would suggest that unnecessary scans can have a negative impact on recovery.

For patients with sciatica presenting with any ‘red flags’, an MRI should be recommended and surgery may be required depending on the findings.

These red flags are as follows:

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Loss of bladder/bowel control

  • Loss of feeling or strength in the legs

  • Absent reflexes

  • History of cancer

  • High temperature

  • Serious trauma

  • If there is no improvement in symptoms following 6 weeks of conservative treatment

low back pain Clonee Physio

Top Tips to Prevent Sciatica

  • Stay active – regular exercise will help to keep your back and core muscles strong. A varied exercise program will also help to maintain the mobility of the spine and extremities.

  • Posture – If you are office-based, spend some time correctly setting up your work station. When it comes to preventing sciatica, a good chair with lumbar support is paramount.

  • Avoid sitting for long periods – If you are working or studying at a desk, good posture will not suffice – you must take regular breaks from sitting

  • Safe lifting habits – When lifting a heavy load from the floor, make sure the legs are doing most of the work. Keep the back relatively straight and bend from the knees.

If you are suffering from sciatica and would like more information, call us on (01) 825 2623 or email us at info@cloneephysio.ie