Decoding Sciatica: A Deep Dive into Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

We understand. The shooting pain from your lower back, coursing its way down your leg, can be debilitating. The feeling is akin to a burning or scorching sensation making the simplest tasks such as walking, sitting, or even lying down feel agonizing.

Yes, we are talking about sciatica pain, and we empathize with your struggle.

At Coeur Physiotherapy, we understand how the constant discomfort and sudden flare-ups of sciatica can leave you frustrated, limiting your mobility and quality of life.

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica is not a disease in itself; rather, it is a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Sciatic pain can be caused by a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis, which compress or irritate the sciatic nerve. Sometimes, tightness and dysfunction in the muscles in the buttocks or back can also cause symptoms that run down your leg.

Herniated discs and degenerative disc disease occur as we age or due to physical stress and strain.

Spinal stenosis, on the other hand, is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves.

Understanding the cause of your sciatica is crucial to tailoring a treatment plan that suits you.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Early recognition of sciatica symptoms can significantly aid in timely management. 

The hallmark feature of sciatica is pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg. This pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating discomfort. Sometimes, it may feel like a jolt or electric shock. 

Sciatica often is worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. You might also experience numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. 

Should you experience these symptoms, a visit to a physiotherapist might be necessary.

Common Types of Sciatica

Acute Sciatica

This is characterized by sudden and severe pain, which may start just in the back and then later spread into the leg.. There is often significant improvement within a week from when the pain starts, but often the pain can persist and may need treatment.

Chronic Sciatica

This type of sciatica lingers for a more extended period (more than eight weeks), and its symptoms may vary in intensity from day to day. Then the pain has lasted for a long time it can be due to structural conditions like spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, or spondylolisthesis, and requires a more comprehensive treatment approach.

How to Treat Sciatica

The treatment of sciatica revolves around relieving the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Physiotherapy is highly effective in achieving this, as it combines pain management techniques with exercises and stretches to alleviate the pressure.

Heat and cold therapy, TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), massage, and targeted exercises form the cornerstone of sciatica treatment. 

It’s always best to discuss your symptoms and concerns with a professional physiotherapist to create a personalized treatment plan.

What does the Research Say?

This 2019 review from Berry et. al advocates that the majority of patients with sciatic pain should seek initial care from a physiotherapist or other rehabilitation professional before considering more invasive options such as surgery or injections.  They note that a  multi-disciplinary approach including rehabilitation is crucial for achieving optimal outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Prolonged sitting, poor posture, heavy lifting, and physical trauma can trigger sciatica.

While sciatica typically affects one side of the body, it can affect both in rare cases.

Yes, walking can help by promoting spinal fluid circulation, which aids in reducing inflammation around the sciatic nerve.

Not necessarily. Many people recover from sciatica with the proper treatment and lifestyle modifications.

Yes, obesity can contribute to sciatica. A healthy weight reduces pressure on the spine and reduces the risk of disc herniation.

In most cases, an MRI or X-Ray is not necessary in managing sciatica, and waiting for these tests can actually cause a harmful delay in beginning treatment. Your physiotherapist or doctor are well-trained to determine when and if these tests would be helpful for you.

If your sciatic pain has occurred due to a trauma or accident, is accompanied by bowel or bladder dysfunction, fever, loss of appetite, or abdominal pain you should seek medical attention from your doctor or emergency room immediately. Also, if your pain is severe and getting worse or spreading into both legs you should consult with a doctor or ER as soon as possible.

Your Next Steps

At Coeur Physiotherapy, we are committed to helping you get back on your feet, literally and figuratively. Our team of experts is ready to help alleviate your pain, restore your mobility, and improve your quality of life. 

To take the first step towards recovery from sciatica, book an appointment online or call us at 587-200-8992. 

Let us help you regain control over your life, free from the constant discomfort of sciatica.

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