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What is sciatica & have I got it? Or is it something else?!

In our clinic we often get clients coming in saying, “I have sciatica”.  Now some of them are right, but very often they are not, and the cause of their pain is something very different. Here are some things which can give symptoms similar to sciatica:

  • Sacro iliac joint problems (SIJ) –  PS. it cannot come out of, or be put back into, place!
  • Hamstring tendinopathy – a problem with the tendon that is not inflammatory.
  • Lumbar facet joint problems
  • Osteoarthritic Hip
  • Gluteal tendinopathy – another problem with a tendon that is not inflammatory.

So let’s explain, what is sciatica?

Sciatica is a word which refers to pain in the backe of your leg, and sometimes into the foot. The origin of the sciatica nerve irritation is typically the point at which the sciatic nerve leaves the spine, AKA the nerve root.

The nerve root can be irritated or it can be compressed.  Both problems normally heal and recover all by themselves without the need for injections or operations, they just need the right environment.

What does that mean, the right environment?

Well if you have a cut on your hand and you keep knocking it, what happens? The cut gets irritated and takes a bit longer to heal, right? So how do you make the cut get better? You leave it alone and stop doing the things that are irritating it and it gets better.  Now that doesn’t mean you do nothing, it just means a short period of changing what you do with the area.

If you do have true sciatica and your nerve root is irritated as it leaves your spine, some things you are doing may be aggravating your symptoms and that could mean you need to change the environment. That may mean bending differently, not twisting so much, sitting with support more often or simply not ignoring the pain! You know who you are if you are reading this!

How do I know if i have sciatica or not?

You may experience one or more of the following symptoms.

  • pain from the buttock down into the rear or side of your leg.
  • pins and needles, tingling or buzzing sensations in the leg
  • numbness to touch the skin in certain parts of your leg.
  • weakness in your calf muscle or in the muscles that lift your big toe or foot (this can be termed foot drop)
  • some people describe a burning pain.

Do I need a scan?

If you have a combination of;

  1. constant pain (it never goes),
  2. a reduction in your skin sensation in your leg
  3. and true muscle weakness in the lower leg,

That trio of things means that an MRI scan may be helpful to confirm your diagnosis.  But that still doesn’t mean you can’t get better.  An MRI scan in this example ultimately is to exclude anything serious going on in your spine, and to consider whether you may need to see a surgeon to consider the next steps.  The numbers of people who need this are small but sometimes if you have severe muscle strength loss you do need surgery to make sure it is not permanent.

What about medication or drugs?

Medication can be very effective in helping reduce your pain. Typical painkillers sometimes don’t work though and a type of drug called a neuropathic pain medication may be useful, pregabalin (lyrica) or gabapentin are the two most commonly used.

How long will it take to get better?

Well that all depends on whether it is truly sciatica? How long you have had it for? Your age? And a whole load of other things which are found on a person by person basis. So unfortunately there is not a one size fits all, if there was, someone, somewhere would be a millionaire!

Key points

  • Get a great assessment to discover if it true sciatica or not
  • Understand your individual factors which may be affecting your body healing.
  • Expect to get better if you do the right things, as most people do get better.
  • Make sure you don’t have any of these symptoms.
  • Don’t let anyone put machines on your back or treat you just with acupuncture, it is a waste of your and their time!

If you think you have sciatica or sciatic like symptoms and are fed up with it and want to feel better and get back on with your life why not give us a call, and let us help to get you pain free. 

Please share with anyone you know who is suffering from sciatica, and maybe give them a nudge if they have been ignoring it to do something about it!

Call us on 01625 422825 or email info@hoganandmitchell.co.uk