Lower Back Pain and Sciatica

Causes and Symptoms of Sciatica

Lower back pain and sciatica is a common problem, although only 5% of people with back pain have sciatica, it can be very severe and disabling for those who do have it.

What Causes Sciatica?

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Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve. the most common cause is a disc bulge Most often sciatica is caused by a disc bulge although there are a few other things that can cause it including spinal stenosis. Find out more about the different causes.

herniated spinal disc

Bulging and Herniated Lumbar Discs

A herniated lumbar disc is caused when the central contents of the disc escape out of the disc. This is also called a disc prolapse. It is important to know there is a difference between a disc bulge and a disc prolapse. Disc bulges are common - many of us have them and are unaware as they are symptom free. A herniated disc is much more significant as it can cause large amounts of inflammation which in turn may lead to severe pain. Prolapsed discs are often treated with surgery.


What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

pinched sciatic nerve symptoms
Pinched Sciatic Nerve Symptoms

The spinal cord runs down the centre of your back and branches into paired nerve roots at each vertebral level. These nerve roots have to pass through a relatively confined space, the foramen, to leave the spinal column, and this is where they are vulnerable. The nerves bundle together to form much bigger nerves which run down the front (femoral) and back (sciatic) of your legs. Its a bit like several trunk roads joining a motorway. Any irritation of the nerve roots that bundle to form the sciatic nerve can cause pinched sciatic nerve symptoms.

Sciatica symptoms
Why does sciatica hurt in the leg?

Usually sciatica symptoms are felt in the leg rather than just the lower back. This is because the nerves leave the spine and bundle together to form large nerves that pass all the way down the front and back of your leg. These large nerves are responsible for transmitting impulses back and forth to the brain. They relay information about movement and sensations among other things. The brain samples this information, and may respond with pain. The leg symptoms usually correspond with the sensory pattern of whichever nerve root is most irritated.

Severe Lower Back Pain Problems - Cauda Equina

severe lower back pain


Cauda Equina Compression- A severe lower back problem

Although rare this is a serious condition that needs immediate medical care.It is caused by compression of the lower part of the spinal cord - the tail, or horses tail. this part of your spine controls bladder and bowel function among other things. If you have a cauda equina problem surgery is usually organised straight away. These are the symptoms of cauda equina.

Sciatica Treatment Ideas

sciatica home treatment
What to do if you have sciatic pain - Steps 1-4

There is a lot you can do to help yourself with home treatment for lower back pain and sciatica . There are some useful suggestions for you here including:

  • Control your pain
  • Find a position of ease
  • Keep active,
  • Avoid problem postures.
sciatica and computer ergonomics
More suggestions and home treatment advice- Steps 5-7

More suggestions for home treatment for sciatica including:

  • Should you go to work?
  • Try not to worry
  • Exercises for sciatica


sciatica dermatomes
  • What will happen if you go and see a physiotherapist?

    What to expect if you visit a physical therapist for sciatica. Firstly the physio will assess you to make sure that the diagnosis is correct. They may be able to offer help and suggestions to manage your pain by tailoring some of the advice above to your specific situation. They will also know if the problem is serious and needs urgent medical attention.

  • Sciatic Nerve Pain Research

    sciatic nerve pain
    Surgery for sciatica?

    Latest research shows that surgery for sciatic nerve pain does not lead to better long term outcomes when compared to advice and pain relief. There are a few question marks about this paper but it is certainly worth a read, especially if you are on the fence and wondering whether to go for surgery or not. The key finding is that surgery reduced pain much faster than non-surgery, although they ended up the same after one year.


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