Sciatica causes pain that radiates out from the lower back, down the buttocks and into one or both of the legs, right down to the calf. The pain is caused when the sciatic nerve gets compressed or irritated. Your spine is made up of many small bones called vertebrae. These are cushioned in between tough flexible discs of cartilage that act as shock absorbers. Your spine surrounds and protects the spinal cord, a thick bundle of nerves connecting the brain to the nerves of the trunk and limbs. The space that the spinal cord runs through is called the spinal canal. The nerves, including the sciatic nerve, exit the spinal canal through small holes between the vertebrae.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body and runs from the lower back through the pelvis down the back of each leg. Sciatica is pain which spreads down one leg from the lower back and buttocks. Usually the pain extends below the knee and may reach the foot. The pain in the leg is characteristically worse than the back pain and there may also be tingling or numbness of the skin and weakness of the leg muscles.
A slipped disc is the commonest cause of sciatica and occurs when one of the discs between your vertebrae bulges out between the bones, pressing on the nerve. The disc most likely to cause sciatica if it ruptures is at the junction of the lumbar and sacral vertebrae at the base of the spine, in line with the top of the buttocks. The risk of sciatica increases with age, increasing height, heavy lifting and excessive straining.
Two other spinal problems may also cause sciatica. These are spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. Both of which result in pressure on the sciatic nerve. Spinal stenosis is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on the nerves running through it. Spondylolisthesis is when one of the vertebrae slips forward over the one below, causing pressure on the nerve running in between.
Treatment options for sciatica include painkillers, physiotherapy and surgery. However, sciatica sometimes passes without the need for treatment.
- This animation explains what sciatica is and what causes it:
- You can read more about sciatica here:
TO PREVENT SCIATICA FROM COMING BACK AGAIN
VIDEO CLIPS TO HELP RELIEVE YOUR PAIN
Sciatica due to a slipped disc: In this video a physiotherapist demonstrates gentle exercises for a herniated or slipped disc, a form of sciatica. The aim of these exercises is to reduce the pressure on the nerve caused by the slipped disc and to reduce the inflammation around it.
Sciatica due to degenerative disease: In this video a physiotherapist demonstrates gentle exercises for degenerative disc disease, a form of sciatica. The aim of these exercises is to strengthen, mobilise and stabilise the surrounding area in order to prevent any further pain.
Sciatica due to spinal stenosis: In this video a physiotherapist demonstrates gentle exercises for spinal stenosis, a form of sciatica.