What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a common complaint which affects many people. The NHS.uk website defines sciatica as any sort of pain that occurs when pressure is applied to the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running down the back of each leg, from the back of the pelvis, through the buttocks, all the way down to the feet.

When something irritates, pinches or compresses the sciatic nerve, the resulting back pain radiates out from the lower back, travelling down the leg to the calf. Sciatic pain can vary from mild to excruciating.

Sciatica is a defined medical term, although it is often used in a non-medical way to describe generic pain or symptoms in the leg.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Symptoms of sciatica can include sharp or stabbing pain, changes to sensation such as numbness or tingling, or weakness in a leg or a foot. Because there are many different causes, the sciatic pain could vary from being a temporary flare-up as the result of an injury, or it could develop slowly over a long period of time.

Sciatic pain may be worse if you are inactive and don’t exercise regularly, if you’re overweight, or if you wear high heels.

Even chronic cases of sciatica can be effectively treated by an osteopath in a way that will eliminate, or at the very least reduce, the amount of pain experienced. As ever with such conditions, accurate and early diagnosis is important for the best treatment and results.

Some of the Causes of Sciatica

Arthritis and Degeneration

Wear and tear in the spinal sacroiliac joints can cause the spaces between lumbar vertebrae to become narrow, resulting in bone spurs (bony projections that develop along the edges of bones) which press on the nerves in the lower back. In older people, such changes within the spine as a result of conditions such as osteoarthritis are often the root cause of sciatica. In all cases, though, there can be aggravating factors.

Disc Bulge or Prolapse

A slipped disc (also known as a herniated or prolapsed disc) causes pressure on the spinal nerves leading to sciatic pain. In young people or adults up to early middle age, most cases of sciatica are the result of this kind of inflammation or pressure.


Changes to the body during pregnancy can cause muscle spasms, joint sprains and nerve irritation, and whilst sciatica due to a herniated disc during pregnancy is uncommon, sciatic-like symptoms are common with low back pain during pregnancy. In some cases, the position of the baby can lead to pressure to the sciatic nerve.

Muscle Spasms

A sudden spasm in the lower back, buttocks or hamstring can give rise to sciatic pain. A specific example of this is Piriformis Syndrome, where the piriformis muscle (located near the top of the hip joint) goes into spasm. This applies pressure directly on the sciatic nerve, causing acute pain,

Spinal Stenosis

Another common cause of sciatica is spinal stenosis. In this condition, a passageway where a nerve exits the spine becomes constricted, which compresses the nerve (the Greek work “stenosis” literally means “choking”). Sciatica from spinal stenosis commonly includes a sharp, stabbing pain that radiates down the leg while moving.

Tumour or Infection

A less common cause of sciatic pain can be a tumour or infection in a key area, where the swelling causes pressure on the nerves, resulting in acute sciatica.

In Part 2 of this blog post next month, we will cover diagnosis, treatment and prevention of sciatica.

Are you suffering from Sciatica or experiencing Sciatic pain?

Stephanie Witts at The Pain Relief Clinic is a registered Osteopath and an expert in the treatment of sciatica and other disorders. Find out more about The Pain Relief Clinic and Stephanie Witts, and if you’re looking for an osteopath in Hassocks or locally in West Sussex, why not get in touch today, there’s no need to suffer in silence.

Call The Pain Relief Clinic in Hassocks 01273 04 78 81.