Approximately 70-80% of people will suffer from lower back pain (LBP) at some time during their life. Fortunately, the majority of these cases are ‘simple non-specific’ LBP which will resolve relatively quickly with manual therapy and exercise. However around 15-40% of people with LBP will also experience additional back-related leg pain, which can be debilitating and significantly impact one’s life. Occasionally, the leg pain can be accompanied by unusual (neurological) sensations such as tingling or numbness in the foot or toes. Leg pain combined with neurological symptoms is most commonly due to irritation and inflammation of the nerves in the lower back which combine together to form the sciatic nerve, and therefore the condition is termed ‘sciatica’. Frequently sciatica is caused by injury to the discs in your lower back, which when damaged can inflame the nerve and cause it to become irritated, sensitive and swollen. Research is also beginning to show that emotional stress, worry and anxiety can also further heighten pain levels.
Although the majority of cases of sciatica will resolve with conservative treatment (e.g. osteopathy, exercise and exercise), for some people, the discs become damaged in such a way that they compress (trap) the nerve against the spinal bones and the muscles which are supplied by the effected nerve begin to weaken. These severe cases may require injections of anti-inflammatory drugs into the area or sometimes surgery if conservative treatment has failed. Fortunately, such cases are relatively uncommon; however if you are unsure, contact the clinic for an appointment. I regularly see patients at BodyMatters Clinic with sciatica and through a thorough clinical assessment I aim to provide a diagnosis and discuss with you possible treatment options or whether referral to a specialist is necessary.
For most cases of sciatica, the aim of osteopathic treatment is to ‘settle down’ the inflamed nerve, and encourage normal movement of the body using manual therapy techniques (such as soft tissue stretching and manipulation of joints). Osteopaths can also advise you on specific exercises, self-management and ‘thinking’ strategies, so that you’re back on your feet as quickly as possible.