What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is inflammation of the sciatic nerve causing burning pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and down into the foot.
Coming out of the spine, 5 different nerves come together to form the large sciatic nerve. It forms underneath the glutes and then runs all the way down the back of the leg in between the muscle bellies of the hamstring. At the knee, the sciatic nerve splits to form the tibial and common peroneal nerve. These nerves then go off and they have several other branches all the way down into the foot. While it’s no longer called the sciatic nerve past the knee, it’s a continuation of the same nerve; that’s how/why the nerve can cause symptoms all the way into the foot.
How does the sciatic nerve get irritated?
The sciatic nerve is commonly irritated in two ways:
- pressure at the nerve root from a disc or bone spurs
- from lower down in the gluteal ( buttock) region.
At the gluteal (buttock) region, the nerve runs underneath a hip muscle called the piriformis. When this muscle is tight or irritated, it can restrict mobility of the nerve, causing pain. Commonly, 'something' is not moving enough or moving too much in the spine, pelvis, or surrounding musculature that winds up putting too much pressure, or restricting the ability of the nerve to move.
Can Physical Therapy Help?
Absolutely! While many people who experience sciatica have a typical pattern of symptoms (burning pain down the back of the leg, numbness and tingling into the foot, etc) each person's cause or reason for that may be different. As mentioned above, where the excessive pressure on the nerve is coming from can vary from person to person.
Getting a detailed evaluation of your body, environment(desk, sleeping position, work station), and daily tasks you put your body through can help to identify the true cause of your sciatica. Once identified, a comprehensive treatment plan can be developed to help relieve pressure, reduce pain, improve your quality of life, and get you back to the life you want to live.