What is sciatic pain and why do i have it?
Sciatica is a commonly used but poorly understood term that people often associate with pain radiating down the back of the leg. Whilst there can be many causes of posterior thigh pain, true sciatica relates to a compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve running from the spine down the back of the leg all the way to the foot.
How do I know if I have true sciatic pain?
The symptoms of sciatica are quite distinct. Irritation of the sciatic nerve causes a sharp, shooting pain that travels in a thin line down the leg. Compression of the sciatic nerve often causes altered sensation such as tingling, pins and needles, numbness, and in severe cases even weakness of the foot. If your pain is more diffuse and is not associated with altered sensation it is unlikely the sciatic nerve is the cause. It is more likely you are experiencing referred pain due to tight muscle or stiff joints.
What causes sciatic pain?
People often worry that sciatic pain is due to a disc herniation, often known as a ’slipped disc’, when the spinal disc protrudes and presses on nerve tissue close to the spine. Whilst disc protrusion is quite common even in healthy spines (that’s right… radiological findings show that disc herniation is quite common even in normal pain free people), it is rare that a disc protrusion is the cause of pain. In fact only 1 in 20 cases of acute back pain a slipped disc is the cause of pain.
It is more likely that muscles in the hip, particularly a muscle called piriformis, become tight and compress the sciatic nerve. This is known as piriformis syndrome and can be related to dysfunction of the pelvis and lower back. Shooting pain and altered sensation coupled with tightness in and around the pelvis and hips may be due to piriformis syndrome.
If I have shooting pain in my legs, what should I do?
We recommend that you consult a trained medical professional if you are experiencing shooting pain with associated changes in sensation such as pins and needles or numbness. If pain is more diffuse (a poorly localised dull ache) and there is no altered sensation, then a few days of avoiding aggravating activities (e.g. heavy lifting) and some gentle movement (e.g. walking or remaining comfortable active) may be enough to resolve pain.
What will an Osteopath do?
An Osteopath is a specialist in musculoskeletal medicine. He or she will diagnose your symptoms using common orthopedic tests and then highlight possible causative factors relating to posture, joint stiffness and muscle strength or weakness before providing treatment and preventative strategies.
If you would like an osteopathic consultation and assessment we are offering a 50% discount on your first session. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org