Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed, giving rise to symptoms such as pain, pins and needles, numbness and muscle weakness radiating from the low back down into the leg and foot.
The sciatic nerve is formed by joining together of nerve “roots” from the lower lumbar and upper sacral vertebra. They join together to form the largest nerve in the human body and it runs from the low back, through the buttock and down the back of the leg and into the foot.
The sciatic nerve can be compressed in a number of ways. Injuries such as a damaged disc, low back ligament or muscle strains, muscle spasm and spinal joint strains can compress the nerve. The amount of pressure (and the location of the pressure) on the nerve will determine the severity of the symptoms. Some people get symptoms into the buttock and upper thigh, some get symptoms in the calf, some get symptoms all the way down the leg into the foot. There is also a similar complaint called Piriformis Syndrome in which the sciatic nerve is compressed as it passes under the Piriformis muscles in the buttock rather than in the low back. Spasm in the muscle is often the cause of this and can be caused by prolonged sitting, bad posture and sports injuries. I treat a lot of triathletes and they seems slightly more susceptible to this complaint, possibly because of the amount of, and type training they do. The cycling side of things may be more of an issue because I see a fair few cyclists with this complaint as well.
Modern scanning techniques have shown that it is often the case that it is actually the effect of the inflammation and fluid congestion caused by the injury that causes the pressure on the nerve, as opposed to, for instance, the disc putting direct pressure on the nerve.
As an osteopath, I treat sciatica a lot. I won’t go into specifics of the treatment as it will vary from person to person but Osteopathy looks to help the body heal and with sciatica it is a case of helping resolve with the inflammation, the cause of the inflammation and the factors the pre-disposed to the injury in the first place. By treating the cause and not the effect osteopathy can provide effective and lasting relief from sciatica.
Philip Waldman D.O. FSCCO Registered Osteopath and Cranial Osteopath is also founder and director of Chelsea Natural Health, which is based on the Fulham Road in SW10.