Sciatica: The Truth Behind The Myths
Sciatica can be a real pain in the bum! It can also be a pain in the back, leg, calf and foot or in more extreme cases, all of the above!
As the longest and largest nerve in the body; running from your lower spine, through your buttocks and down the back of your leg, there are several different areas that can be affected along it’s journey.
The term ‘sciatica’ is commonly used to describe any pain or numbness anywhere along the sciatic nerve.
With that said it’s no surprise that a lot of the clients we see in the clinic with such symptoms don’t fully know or understand what sciatica is and there are many myths and misbeliefs surrounding sciatica and the treatment available that we will dispel below.
Myth #1 – Sciatica is a diagnosis
Sciatica is often thought of as a ‘diagnosis’ or ‘condition’ but in actual fact it’s an umbrella term used for a collection of nerve related symptoms such as pins and needles, tingling, numbness and weakness that can present in the back of the leg, calf and foot and is the result of an irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower back.
There are several common spinal conditions that may be the true cause of your sciatica symptoms. These include:
- Herniated or bulging discs
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Bone spurs
- Piriformis syndrome
- Spinal tumours (very rare)
Myth #2 – If you only have leg pain it can’t be sciatica
Whilst most sciatica symptoms are accompanied by pain in the back, it isn’t unknown for sciatica to present in the leg without the presence of back pain. Because the sciatic nerve runs the length of the back of your leg and branches off into your foot and toes, symptoms can appear random. Most true sciatic symptoms cover more than one area, usually running from the back/mid buttock into the back of the leg and calf.
Quite often sciatica without back pain can be misdiagnosed as a muscular issue such as a hamstring or calf strain. If you are experiencing leg symptoms only, a professional assessment of the leg will determine if your symptoms are the cause of sciatica or the result of another cause of leg pain such as muscle strains or vascular issues.
Myth #3 – Bed rest will improve symptoms
You may already know that this isn’t the case because you’ve more than likely tried it!
In our experience most of our clients do much better if they remain active within pain tolerance levels and keep rest to a minimum, taking several short breaks throughout the day. Adopting this strategy helps to relieve the symptoms of sciatica by allowing the nerve to keep ‘gliding’ and stops the muscles and joints around the lower back and hip from becoming weaker and seizing up.
Myth #4 – Sciatica only affects sedentary people
Again a common misconception is that sciatica only affects those that sit for long periods at a time; however, as true sciatica can be caused by a number of lower back issues, more active people are at just as much risk of developing sciatic symptoms as those that lead more sedentary lives – We have even seen professional sports people present with sciatica symptoms due to the nature of their sports and the impact upon their back.
Myth #5 – Sciatica can’t be cured
We often see individuals that have tried numerous self help exercises on the internet or who have received treatment for sciatica in the past with little to no improvement in their symptoms.
With the term ‘Sciatica’ being so misunderstood and misused (even in medical circles!) and many causes of sciatica going misdiagnosed resulting in treatment not being targeted in the right area; it’s of no surprise that some clients come to see us believing that their sciatica can’t be cured!
If you think you are suffering from sciatica the most important thing for getting back on track is to get the correct diagnosis and determine the true cause of your symptoms – only then can the most appropriate treatment, advice and exercises be given.