Everything you need to know about Sciatica

Sciatica (940 × 600px)

Sciatica is common and affects between 10-40% of the UK population. Recovery times vary widely depending on symptom severity, duration and required interventions such as gentle exercises, medication, pain relief, surgery etc.

Sciatica is pain arising from compression of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back, through the buttock region, and down the back of the leg. Branches of the sciatic nerve travel all the way to the foot and toes so symptoms can also appear here.

Common causes of sciatica include herniated (slipped) disc in the spine compressing the sciatic nerve and causing irritation.

Symptoms are predominantly unilateral (affecting just one leg) and can include;

  • tingling
  • muscle weakness
  • numbness
  • aching and burning pain

The severity of the symptoms can vary widely between different people. If symptoms appear in both legs it is advisable to speak with your GP as soon as possible. Bilateral (in both legs) sciatica is rare, and requires investigation to rule out other potentially severe causes of the symptoms. Symptoms are often aggravated by bending (to put on shoes, socks etc) and twisting (to reach for something behind you while sitting etc).

Exercises involving lifting both legs off the ground while lying/sitting down, squatting, torso twisting/rotating and bending forward while legs are straight are not advisable as they will aggravate the symptoms. Coughing can also exacerbate sciatica symptoms. Firmly hugging a cushion while coughing braces the abdominal muscles and acts as a shock absorber- helping to reduce sharp bodily movement that can aggravate sciatica symptoms.

Gentle sciatic nerve glides can be a great exercise to promote movement and aid in pain management and pain reduction. They involve adopting a position that is less irritable for the sciatic nerve and promotes movement that, when gradually increased over time, can reduce pain levels and improve range of movement.

Before starting new exercises it is important to consult with a GP/Physiotherapist to ensure safe progression and recovery.