Last Updated on May 19, 2024 by Rohail

Many people around the world suffer from back pain, but for some, it goes beyond their back and causes pain, numbness and tingling down their leg. This frustrating and sometimes persistent condition is called sciatica (pronounced: sci·​at·​i·​ca).

Sciatica is one of the most common conditions that we treat at Hip to Toe and we’re fortunate to have helped many of our customers with it.

In this guide we will talk about:

  1. What causes sciatica.
  2. The signs and symptoms you might experience if you have sciatica.
  3. Specialised ways to treat sciatica that go beyond the usual methods for treating non-sciatic back pain.

Understanding Sciatica

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. You can see the sciatic nerve shown in yellow on this diagram:

Sciatic pain typically affects one side of the body and can vary from a mild ache to sharp, excruciating pain. Sciatica is not a medical condition in and of itself, per-se. Sciatica is really a symptom of another underlying problem such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or a bone spur compressing the sciatic nerve. Let’s learn more about those below.

Herniated Discs

A herniated disc occurs when the soft inside part of a disc in your spine pushes out through a tear in the tougher outer layer of the disc. This ruptured disc can start to press against the sciatic nerve causing pain, numbness, and tingling in your lower back, buttocks, and down your leg.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is when the passage in your spine that the spinal cord and nerves pass through, gets narrow. This narrow space can push on the nerves, like the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica symptoms. Spinal stenosis can occur due to ageing, wear and tear on your spine, or the growth of bone spurs.

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is when one bone in your spine slips forward over the one below it. This shift can squeeze on the nerves, including the sciatic nerve, leading to sciatica symptoms. The amount of slippage decides how severe the symptoms are and can be caused by things like aging, fractures, or birth issues.

Piriformis Syndrome

The piriformis muscle in your buttocks can bother or squeeze the sciatic nerve when it tightens up. This can lead to sciatica symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness in your buttocks and down your leg. Sitting for a long time, injuring your buttocks, or using the muscle too much can all contribute to piriformis syndrome.

Bone Spurs

Bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are abnormal bony growths that can form on the edges of bones. In the case of sciatica, bone spurs might grow on the bones in your spine. As these spurs get bigger, they can press on the sciatic nerve, causing compression and sciatica symptoms. Bone spurs can develop due to aging, conditions like osteoarthritis, or chronic inflammation.

If you or someone you know is dealing with the challenges of sciatica, it’s time to take proactive steps towards understanding and managing this condition. Knowledge is key, and by being informed about the various causes, such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, piriformis syndrome, and bone spurs, you empower yourself to make informed decisions about your health.

Remember, taking action today can lead to a tomorrow with less pain and improved well-being. Don’t let sciatica control your life—take charge and contact Hip to Toe today for more information on how we may be able to assist you with your recovery – 07 557 7329

Symptoms of Sciatica

Knowing the specific cause of your own case of sciatica is important so you can avoid prolonging or worsening your experience of sciatica. It’s highly recommended to visit a suitable health professional as soon as you begin to experience symptoms of sciatica. Let’s look at some of the common signs and symptoms that sciatica sufferers experience.

Pain

The main thing people notice with sciatica is pain. This pain usually starts in the lower back and buttocks and then goes down one leg. The pain can feel different for different people. For instance, it might present as a dull ache for some people but be experience as a sharp, shooting pain for others. How much it hurts and what it feels like will often vary according to what is causing the sciatica. For instance, sciatica resulting from a slipped disc may have different symptoms than sciatica caused by piriformis syndrome. Certain positions like standing or sitting for a long time can make the pain worse for people with sciatica.

Numbness and Tingling

Many people with sciatica feel numbness, tingling or ‘pins and needles’ in the leg that’s affected. This happens because the sciatic nerve is being pressed or irritated. The numbness and tingling can go from the lower back and buttocks all the way down to the toes. Sometimes these feelings come and go and other times they may persist. It really depends on how much the nerve is being irritated or compressed and how long it has been occurring.

Muscle Weakness

Sciatica can sometimes lead to weakness in your leg or foot. This can make it hard to move or control your leg properly. The weakness happens because the compression or irritation of the nerve prevents the proper transmission of signals between the brain and the muscles. This weakness can obviously negatively impact your everyday life when things like walking, going up stairs, or keeping your balance become more difficult. This is why it’s important to fix any muscle weakness quickly to prevent a worsening of symptoms and to restore your normal mobility ASAP.

Burning Sensation

Some people with sciatica experience a burning sensation along the path of the sciatic nerve. This burning feeling is sometimes accompanied by sciatic pain and could mean the nerve is irritated or inflamed. It could either be a constant sensation or it might come and go. Either way, it all adds to the overall discomfort of having sciatica.

You’re probably realising from what you’ve just read that sciatica symptoms can be quite different for each person. The sciatica symptoms that you personally experience will depend on things like what’s causing the sciatica, how healthy you are, what lifestyle activities you partake in, etc. If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms of sciatica it’s really important to immediately arrange to meet with a suitably qualified health professional and develop a tailored approach to get you back to feeling your best.

Learning About Lower Back Pain and Sciatica

Lower back pain and sciatica are a common combination that many people experience. Let’s find out more about how these issues are often connected.

Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is such a common occurrence and many people will experience it at some point in their lives. This can be either due to an injury or as part of a longer-term health issue. The symptoms of lower back pain are also varied. For instance, some people experience a dull ache and others experience a sudden pain that accompanies certain movements. Some of the common causes of lower back include things such as muscle strains, ligament sprains, sports or work injuries, or medical conditions resulting from ageing, such as osteoarthritis.

Sciatica

Pain and discomfort from sciatica differs from typical lower back pain in that sciatic pain starts in the lower back and goes down one or both legs. It happens when a nerve called the sciatic nerve is pressed or irritated. This can be due to issues like a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, misaligned hips, or tight muscles in the buttocks.

How Sciatic and Lower Back Pain Are Linked

Lower back pain and sciatica often go together and this can sometimes confuse the diagnosis. Conditions causing lower back pain, like a herniated disc, can also cause sciatica. For example, if a disc in the lower back puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain that goes down the leg.

Symptoms

Lower back pain might make your back feel stiff or sore, while sciatica can make your leg hurt, tingle, or feel numb or weak.

Managing and Treating

The first step to recovery is correctly figuring out what is causing your pain. Once you have identified the cause of your sciatica, you can work with your health professional to select a suitable path forward. Common remedial options include doing specific exercises, making changes in your lifestyle, or getting treatment from a healthcare professional. Strengthening your core muscles, keeping a healthy weight and having good posture are all things that can help reduce symptoms of sciatica.

In summary, knowing about the link between lower back pain and sciatica is important for a correct diagnosis and in selecting the right course of treatment. Be sure to reach out to Hip to Toe as soon as you experience any pain and discomfort so we can help give you an understanding of what’s causing your sciatic pain and help get you back to your everyday activities, but without the pain!

Treatment Options

Podiatry – Structural and Biomechanical

The Australian Podiatry Association defines podiatry as “the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of foot and lower limb conditions.” Many people misunderstand podiatry as being limited to helping people with conditions such as ingrown toenails and corns etc. But in reality podiatrists are a key first point of contact for managing foot pain, heel painknee pain, ankle pain and hip pain conditions. Podiatrists have an excellent understanding of the physiology of the entire lower limb and they understand how biomechanical issues in the lower limb can lead to a range of other health conditions.

MME (Mobilisation, Manipulation & Exercises)

It may seem counterintuitive but sometimes conditions such as lower back pain and sciatica can actually be caused (or related to) conditions originating in your feet, ankles, knees (lower limbs). That’s why at Hip to Toe we have Podiatrists and Physiotherapy practitioners who are trained in a structural podiatry modality called ‘MME’ (Mobilisation, Manipulation & Exercises). This modality looks at the alignment of your feet, ankles, knees and hips and aims to correct misalignment that is causing pain, discomfort or reduced mobility using a combination of hands-on therapy and strengthening exercises.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is a structured and personalised approach to enhancing your body’s movement, strengthening muscles, and alleviating the symptoms associated with sciatica. When dealing with sciatica, a physiotherapist becomes a valuable partner in your journey toward improved mobility and reduced pain.

Podiatry and physiotherapy practitioners who are also trained in MME are a powerful combination in the fight against sciatica and lower back pain. This is a rare combination that can be found at Hip to Toe.

1. Guidance from a Professional

Having a trained and experienced healthcare professional (such as a podiatrist or physiotherapist) to guide you through the process of your recovery can take a lot of the stress out of dealing with your condition. They assess your condition, taking into account factors like your pain levels, range of motion and any physical limitations. They will also consider your current lifestyle and mobility requirements from work, family and sporting commitments. This allows them to work with you to create a comprehensive plan to target your unique challenges.

2. Goal-Oriented Plan

The primary goal of treatment at Hip to Toe is to use podiatry and physiotherapy is to facilitate easier movement, relax tense muscles and promote healing. By focusing on specific hands-on manipulation of tissues and appropriate exercises, the physiotherapist aims to reduce the pressure on the sciatic nerve to minimise your pain and discomfort.

3. Hands-On Techniques

Your podiatrist and/or physiotherapist will likely employ hands-on techniques, such as manual manipulation and massage of your affected physiology, to further enhance the effectiveness of the treatment. These techniques help release tension in muscles, improve circulation and contribute to an overall sense of well-being. Often you can feel a level of immediate improvement in your condition even after the first session of hands-on manual therapy.

4. Customised Exercise Program

A key aspect of your treatment at Hip to Toe involves developing a tailored exercise plan that suits your specific needs and abilities. Exercises are carefully chosen to address your individual condition, aiming to enhance flexibility, build strength, and improve your overall bodily function and mobility.

5. Empowering Patients

Our podiatrist and physiotherapy practitioners aim to empower you to participate in your own healing process. Your practitioner will typically educate you about your condition to explain the purpose of how each exercise or treatment modality contributes to relieving your sciatica. If you are ever unsure about your condition or treatment, make sure you ask your practitioner to explain in more detail or in simpler terms (as we all know they sometimes use jargon or unfamiliar terms!).

6. Comprehensive Approach

Podiatry and physiotherapy often involve a more holistic (multi-faceted) approach that goes beyond simply addressing the immediate symptoms of your sciatica. This comprehensive strategy aims to identify the underlying causes of sciatica, which might not always be immediately apparent. This helps provide a long-term benefit and a reduced likelihood of recurring issues.

7. Monitoring and Adjustments

Throughout your treatment process, your therapist continually monitors your progress. They may make adjustments to the exercise plan based on how your body responds, ensuring that the treatment remains effective and tailored to your evolving needs.

In essence, your treatment at Hip to Toe will be a dynamic and collaborative process that empowers you to actively participate in your healing journey. Through targeted exercises and the guidance of a skilled professional, you can regain control over your body, minimise sciatica symptoms, and work towards a future of improved mobility and well-being. Sound good?

Call us now for more information: 07 5571 7329

At Home Treatment Options for Sciatica and Lower Back Pain

Heat and Cold Therapy

Putting something warm or cold on the sore area is a common at-home treatment to make sciatic pain feel better. People often use both heat and cold treatments depending on what feels good and what helps with their symptoms. Heat helps by making your blood flow better, relaxing muscles, and reducing stiffness. Cold works by numbing the area, lessening swelling, and giving relief. For heat, many people use a wheat bag or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to provide some relief on the painful area. For cold, many people use a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to provide some relief on the painful area.

Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates are kinds of gentle exercise that focus on making your body more flexible and strong. These exercises strengthen the core muscles, which can be helpful for people with sciatica and back pain. Making your core stronger supports your spine and can sometimes lessen the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Also, the gentle stretching and controlled movements in Yoga and Pilates could improve flexibility and make sciatica symptoms feel better.

Mind-Body Techniques

Managing stress and relaxing are important ways to relieve sciatica. Techniques like meditation and deep breathing help reduce stress. When the body is stressed, muscles can get tight, adding to sciatic pain. Using these techniques regularly may lower muscle tension, easing pain and discomfort for people with sciatica.

These alternative methods are usually seen as additions to regular medical treatments for sciatica. It’s crucial for people to talk to their healthcare providers before trying new treatments, including these alternatives. While some people may find relief with these methods, how well they work can be different for each person. Managing sciatica might involve a mix of traditional medical treatments, alternative methods, and lifestyle changes to suit each person’s unique needs. Regular communication with healthcare professionals helps create a well-rounded and personalised plan for managing sciatica symptoms.

Stretching

Sometimes stretching can provide instant (albeit perhaps temporary) sciatica pain relief.

It’s crucial to be gentle and not overstretch. If you have any concerns or if the pain persists, immediately stop the exercise and consult with a healthcare professional for personalised advice and further evaluation.

Medications

Many people turn to medications to help ease the pain and swelling linked to sciatica and back pain. For example, this includes pain-relief medications to help manage pain and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling around the sciatic nerve.

Ultimately, you only use medications to mask or reduce the sensation or symptoms of your medical condition. They are not a cure. To avoid the ongoing expense and side effects that accompany many medications, a more preferable solution is to use other treatment modalities (such as podiatry, MME or physiotherapy) to attempt to resolve the cause of your symptoms so medications are no longer required.

Epidural Steroid Injections

In extreme cases of sciatica, which cannot be resolved via other treatment modalities, a medical practitioner might suggest injections of corticosteroids directly around the sciatic nerve. These injections can lower swelling and ease pain.

Surgery

In other extreme cases of sciatica, which cannot be resolved via other treatment modalities, some people have no option but to resort to surgical intervention. Because of the risks and expense of surgery, it is usually only used as a last resort. Common surgeries for extreme cases of sciatica include taking out part of a slipped disc or making more space around the sciatic nerve.

Wrapping it Up

Sciatica is more than just regular back or leg pain and it can have a huge influence on how you live your life. It’s important to accurately diagnose the cause of your sciatica to get the best treatment outcome. The treatment that is right for you depends on your overall, specific situation and medical condition. The treatment modality that you choose should be something that you decide on in conjunction with your medical practitioner. A common approach is to try less-invasive therapies first (such as podiatry, MME and physiotherapy like what we offer at Hip to Toe) and attempt to resolve your condition. If these modalities are unsuccessful, your practitioner will usually suggest other treatment types that could be more suitable for you.

Call us now for more information: 07 5571 7329

FAQs

Are there risk factors associated with sciatica?

Yes, some things make it more likely for you to get sciatica. These include things like aging, being overweight and not being active enough.

Can sciatica affect both legs?

Yes, sciatica can affect one or both of your legs. It depends on where the problem is with your sciatic nerve. It is more common for sciatica to only affect one leg.

What lifestyle factors contribute to sciatica?

Sciatica can be more likely if you spend a lot of time sitting (especially with bad posture or on an unsuitable seat), if you don’t exercise enough and if you lift things incorrectly or life excessive weight. To lower the chances of getting sciatica, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle with regular movement and proper lifting techniques to keep your spine in good condition.

How is sciatica different from other back pain conditions?

Sciatica is different from regular back pain because the pain goes down the leg. Other back pain usually stays in the back. So, when you have sciatica, the pain travels from your lower back through your hips and down to your leg.

Are there specific stretches recommended for sciatica relief?

Yes, there are gentle stretches that can help ease sciatic pain. These usually focus on improving flexibility in the lower back and legs.

How long does it typically take for sciatica to resolve?

Sciatica can get better on its own, but it might take a few weeks or even months. It is different for everyone. It is important to contact a health professional at the early onset of symptoms so you can prevent your sciatica worsening or persisting.

Are there preventive measures to avoid recurrent episodes of sciatica?

Yes, you can lower the chances of sciatica coming back by staying active, using proper body mechanics, strengthening your core and maintaining a healthy weight.

What are the potential complications of untreated sciatica?

If left untreated, sciatica can lead to more pain and negatively affect your mobility and daily life. In some cases, it can cause weakness or numbness in the leg.

Can weight management play a role in preventing or managing sciatica?

Keeping a healthy weight is important in avoiding or managing sciatica. If you have extra weight, it puts more pressure on your lower back, making sciatica more pronounced and painful. Certain foods are increasingly associated with inflammation. Eating good food and staying active can help stop and handle sciatic pain.

Call us now for more information: 07 5571 7329

Contact us

This contact form is deactivated because you refused to accept Google reCaptcha service which is necessary to validate any messages sent by the form.