Written by Tele Demetrious, Physiotherapist, BPhysio(Hons)
Reviewed by Brett Harrop, APA Sports Physiotherapist, BPhysio(Hons), MPhysio(Sports Physio)

Injuries > Lower Back > Sciatica

(Also known as Sciatic Pain, Pinched Sciatic Nerve, Acute Nerve Root Compression)

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is the term given to symptoms experienced from compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve (figure 1). Symptoms usually include one-sided lower back pain which radiates into the buttock and/or leg and sometimes includes muscle spasm, pins and needles, numbness, a burning sensation, shooting pain or weakness. Symptoms may also be experienced in the foot or toes. Although symptoms typically affect only one side of the body, occasionally both sides may be affected.

Sciatic Nerve Anatomy

Figure 1 – Sciatic Nerve Anatomy

Whilst sciatica is a common complaint, the term itself is often misunderstood. It is important to realize that sciatica is not a diagnosis, but rather a description of symptoms. There are a number of conditions which can cause compression or irritation to the sciatic nerve resulting in sciatic pain. This is important to understand as appropriate treatment for each of these conditions differs.

Causes of sciatica

One of the most common causes of sciatic pain is a lumbar disc bulge. Lumbar disc bulges frequently occur due to excessive sitting, bending or lifting activities and may occur traumatically or due to repetitive or prolonged forces. In the older patient, sciatic pain may be associated with bony compression of the nerve root caused by spinal degeneration or spinal canal stenosis. These conditions typically occur due to gradual wear and tear over long periods of time and are frequently associated with overuse.

Some of the more common conditions which may cause sciatic pain include:

Other less common conditions which may also cause sciatic pain include:

  • tumors
  • bony growths
  • infections

Diagnosis of sciatica

A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose sciatic pain and the underlying cause of symptoms. Investigations such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan may be required to confirm diagnosis, assess the severity of injury and rule out other pathology.

Treatment for sciatica

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Physiotherapy ProductsPhysiotherapy products for sciatica

Some of the most commonly recommended products by physiotherapists to hasten healing and speed recovery in patients with this condition include:

  1. Lumbar Supports
  2. Back Braces
  3. Ice Packs or Heat Packs
  4. Spikey Massage Ball (for self massage)
  5. Foam Rollers (for self massage and Pilates Exercises)
  6. Sports Tape (for back taping)
  7. TENS Machine (for pain relief)
  8. Angled Wedge Seat Cushions

To purchase physiotherapy products to assist with sciatic pain, click on one of the above links or visit the PhysioAdvisor Shop.

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