Sciatica is an umbrella term primarily used for buttock and leg pain when other conditions have been ruled out for example hip or knee arthritis.  Sciatica may or may not be accompanied with lower back pain.  The Sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the human body beginning in the lower lumbar spine following a path through the buttock, down the back of the thigh and calf to the foot and toes. 

Sciatica occurs when the Sciatic nerve becomes irritated, inflamed or compressed, which may cause pain, weakness, numbness, tingling, burning and other neurological symptoms in the affected leg.  The sensation of water running down the leg, electric shocks or the feeling of a pebble in the shoe are commonly reported by patients.

Sciatica is an umbrella term with the underlying medical condition commonly found to be one of the following:-

  • A herniated lumbar disc (slipped disc) which may physically or chemically (sometimes both) cause irritation/compression of the nerve.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis causes narrowing to the channel where the nerve runs through leading to compression/irritation.
  • Degenerative disc disease, general vertebral and facet joint degeneration.
  • Spondylolisthesis – a structural change leading to nerve compression/irritation.
  • Muscle spasm/inflammation.
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

How long will it last?

Specific symptoms depend on the particular nerve that is being irritated/compressed.  Commonly the back of the leg is affected however the outer thigh, knee, shin and foot are also common complaints.

Sciatica symptoms develop insidiously over time rather than as a result of a particular injury and can affect 10%-40% of the population. Typically, within the 40 years age bracket.  More common in occupations that are physically strenuous e.g. ground workers, boat builders etc.

The vast majority of sufferers will note improvement/resolution of symptoms within six weeks however in those with severe neurological symptoms (weakness) recovery may take longer. When severe nerve compression is present with progressive symptoms of pain, weakness etc. neurosurgical opinion is indicated.

Here at Fay Pedler Clinic we are lucky to have direct access via Alex Jack to the Consultant Neurosurgeons at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust and Nuffield Hospital.  If we suspect you require Neurosurgical opinion your case will be discussed with Alex ensuring you are referred appropriately.

Can Sciatica serious?

Certain symptoms of Sciatica may indicate a serious medical condition.  The symptoms may include:-

  • Progressive neurological symptoms, such as leg weakness, numbness, tingling
  • Symptoms experienced in both legs
  • Changes to bladder and bowel function, such as incontinence, numbness, erectile dysfunction, increase in toileting frequency or urgency.

Should you experience any symptoms like this you are advised to attend the emergency department immediately for prompt medical assessment.  Failure to do so may result in life changing problems.

Please contact the clinic and ask to speak to any of the Physiotherapists if you are at all concerned.  We are all experienced in the management of sciatica and have many successful cases that have responded well to our treatments.