What is sciatica and how can it be treated?
Sciatica is when the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated and causes a sharp shooting pain, pins and needles and/or numbness down the leg, even as far as the toes depending on the severity. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and originates from the lumbar and sacral spine L4-S3 (this is roughly just above the pelvis down to the tail bone). The nerve exits at both sides of the vertebrae where it then travels down the leg to the toes, weaving through the soft tissue and around the joints in the lower limb. This is why the pain may feel like it’s shooting up and down from the lumbar spine (lower back) to the feet. Sciatica can affect many aspects of day-to-day life including sleep, mood, mobility, work and hobbies. It is therefore essential to seek assessment and treatment by a Chartered and CORU regulated Physiotherapist in the early stages to establish a recovery plan and become pain-free as soon as possible.
How long does sciatica take to resolve?
In most cases, the pain will resolve in approximately 4-6 weeks, if aided by pain relief, remaining active, doing some simple exercises and avoiding any aggravating factors. If the pain does not improve after the first week then contact a Chartered and CORU regulated Physiotherapist for an assessment. Research shows that 90% of those who experience acute low back pain will see their pain resolve within 12 weeks. Therefore, it is essential to remain positive as the likelihood of a full recovery is high. Remaining active and seeking help if required from a Physiotherapist is the key to resolving sciatica.
What can I do to ease the discomfort of sciatica?
The most effective way to relieve sciatic pain is to try some simple lumbar spine (lower back) exercises. These help to keep the back mobile and desensitise and centralise the nerve pain to the centre of the back instead of allowing it to radiate down the leg. Exercises should be attempted little and often if the pain is quite severe and irritable. To start, try some of these recommended exercises from the NHS. If any of these cause the pain to increase then stop and make an appointment with a Physiotherapist for an assessment. At Next Level Physiotherapy, more specific guidance would be given on optimal exercises to speed up the recovery process, combined with manual therapy and other techniques and modalities. You can book in with Next Level Physiotherapy through our online booking system.
There are a number of do’s and don’ts for relieving sciatic pain:
- Do try positions such as lying on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and a pillow under the arch of your spine or lying on your front with a pillow under your stomach
- Do remain as active as you can
- Do take pain relief if it’s safe to do so. If you have any concerns about this contact a GP or pharmacist for further advice
- Do continue moving your back as normal if it does not cause you an increase in pain
- Do change position every 20-30 minutes
- Do remain positive as back pain will improve with time
- Don’t lie down in bed and avoid movement
- Don’t sit for long periods without changing position, this can aggravate your symptoms
If symptoms have not improved significantly after the first week then contact us to make an appointment for a full assessment and treatment plan.
What warning signs should I look out for with back pain?
If you experience any of the below signs or symptoms whilst experiencing back pain, it is best to make an appointment with a health professional as soon as possible:
- Pins and needles and numbness radiating down both legs
- Bladder retention or lack of control over your bowel movements
- Pins and needles and numbness in and around the groin and buttocks region on both sides in the distribution of a saddle
- An increase in pain when you lie on your back
- Unexplained weight loss of 5% or more of your total body weight within a 6-month period (example: someone who is 80kg that would be 4kg of weight loss unexplained)
- If you’ve had fall onto your back or fallen from a height, best practice would be to have an x-ray to rule out a fracture if you are in considerable discomfort
For guidance on general back pain see our blog: How to get relief from back pain with Physiotherapy.
Sciatica can be painful and uncomfortable but it’s essential to keep active, remain positive and seek help if the pain is not improving after the first week. With the correct advice, reassurance, education, exercises and manual therapy, it’s possible to make a full recovery and return to work and hobbies pain-free. If you have any questions on sciatica or would like to book an appointment, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for reading my blog, feel free to comment, like and share it on social media.