Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain caused by of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, and all the way down both legs, ending at your feet.
The pain of sciatica is usually felt in the buttocks and legs.
Most people find it goes away naturally within a few weeks, although some cases can last for a year or more.
When the sciatic nerve is irritated, it can cause:
The pain can range from being mild to very painful, and may be made worse by sneezing, coughing or sitting for a long period of time.
While people with sciatica can also have general back pain, the pain associated with sciatica usually affects the buttocks and legs much more than the back.
In the vast majority of cases sciatica is caused by a slipped disc. A slipped disc occurs when one of the discs that sit between the bones of the spine (the vertebrae) “slips” and starts pressing on the nerves.
It’s not always clear what causes this to happen, although as you get older your discs become less flexible and more likely to be damaged. The good news is that most slipped discs resolve on their own but this can take some weeks or months.
Less common causes include:
Most cases of sciatica pass in around six weeks without the need for treatment.
A combination of things you can do at home – such as taking anti-inflammatory painkillers for any back pain, staying active and exercising, and using hot or cold packs – may help reduce the symptoms until the condition improves.
Further treatment may be needed in some cases, such as:
In rare cases surgery may be needed to correct the problem in your spine.
You can minimise your risk of a further episode of sciatica by:
You can self-refer into community physiotherapy services. Simply call 0207 871 0545 to make an appointment. Your initial contact with one of our chartered physiotherapists may be over the phone, where you will either be given advice on appropriate treatment, or a face-to-face consultation will be arranged.
Should you wish to speak to your GP first, simply make an appointment with your local practice. If your GP refers you, one of our patient care advisers will contact you within 48 hours to arrange an appointment.