Sciatica

Irritation of the body’s largest nerve

Sciatica is nerve pain that usually starts in the lower back and radiates to the buttocks, all the way down the leg. This condition is more common than you might think, as two in five people are affected. Sciatica basically occurs when the largest nerve of the body, the sciatic nerve or nervus ischiadicus, is irritated. This nerve starts in the bone marrow and goes all the way to the buttocks and down the back of the leg, ending in the foot. Therefore, the symptoms of sciatica can occur in all of these areas.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Sciatica is usually characterised by a nagging or stabbing pain in the lower back, the buttocks, the leg and the ankle. These symptoms should be taken very seriously, because in some cases, this condition can lead to dysfunction or even loss of function. An example is foot drop. Other symptoms that may be caused by sciatica are muscle weakness, a tingling sensation, muscle cramps and decreased reflexes in the areas crossed by the sciatic nerve. The pain can be intense, but in most cases it is only temporary and it disappears on its own, as sciatica is generally not a permanent condition.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica is caused by inflammation, damage to or irritation of the sciatic nerve. It can also develop in pregnancy or during labour, when lifting heavy loads, due to heavy straining of the sciatic nerve and as a result of stress. The latter may sound a little illogical, but it is not. After all, when you are stressed, your posture may change and/or your muscles may tense up. Consequently, your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles become misaligned. This puts more strain on the sciatic nerve, which is then overloaded. Moreover, obesity, bad posture, inflammation, cold weather and the flu can lead to sciatica. This condition sometimes also occurs in patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the lower back. Click here to find out more about osteoarthritis >>>

How is sciatica diagnosed?

The hardest part of the diagnosis is making sure sciatica is not confused with a hernia, as the symptoms are very similar. The physician will ask you specific questions and check whether your symptoms match those of sciatica. Moreover, he needs to ascertain whether the pain radiates to the nerve branches of the sciatic nerve, i.e. to the buttocks, leg and foot.

How is sciatica treated?

In most cases there is no need to treat this condition, because generally, the pain disappears on its own. The physician will prescribe paracetamol, rest and some specific exercises. You may also be referred to a physiotherapist or chiropractor, who will teach you how to strengthen the muscles in your back and give you advice on posture and exercise. To prevent sciatica from reoccurring, you should maintain a healthy body weight, good physical condition and strong back muscles. Moreover, it is advisable not to lift any heavy loads.

Exercises for sciatica

Below you will find some exercises to help decrease the pain and promote healing.

Exercise no. 1:

Lie on your back, resting your head on a pillow, and pull up your knees. Open and close your legs ten times.

Exercise no. 2:

Lie down in the same position as for exercise no. 1. Lower your legs and pull them back up. Repeat ten times.

Exercise no. 3:

Sit down, stretching your legs. Bend forward and bring your fingertips as close to your toes as you can. Repeat ten times.

Exercise no. 4:

This exercise is ideal if your leg hurts a lot. Stand up and hold on to the arms of a chair. Swing your leg back and forth ten times.

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