You are not alone! Sciatica is a painful condition which affects up to 5% of the population in the UK each year (NICE, 2013). That’s 3.5 million people! It can be a very painful condition in which the large sciatic nerve which runs down the back of the leg becomes irritated. This can be caused by the nerve being irritated in the lower back, gluteal muscles, or anywhere down the leg.
It is usually associated with pain, but can also present with pins and needles, numbness and other sensations. When you develop sciatica, it can be tempting to rest. In reality this is the worst thing to do. If you rest with sciatic pain, the nerve remains in one position, this means it is more likely to become more symptomatic. If the nerve is encouraged to move (within sensible limits) then its chance of reducing irritation is increased. The goal should be to move as normally and as freely as you are able.
This sometimes however, feels impossible. Sciatica can be incredibly painful and movement can make it worse in certain positions. If this is the case, you should aim to exercise in a position that is more comfortable. Your physiotherapist can help advise you on ways to keep moving whilst reducing your chance of flaring pain. If you cannot tolerate your pain, speaking to your GP about neuropathic medications may be sensible. These are drugs which target the nerve pain specifically, improving symptoms. However, simply targeting symptoms is not advisable in the long run, unless you are using your improved pain to do more.
A full physiotherapy assessment can help to identify the cause of the pain, and treat the cause of the pain. Whereas sciatica left to its own devices will often last months, Physiotherapy can help speed up the process through treatments including hands on, but more importantly advice and education about the best way to keep the nerve moving. If you suffer from sciatica, the sooner you seek help when it first onsets, the quicker your symptoms should resolve. In the meantime, keep active!