What is sciatica and why it causes back pain?

This article is written by the osteopath in Islington at the Angel Osteopathic Clinic. This article looks at:

• What is sciatica?
• What is the sciatic nerve?
• Where is the sciatic nerve?
• Signs and symptoms of sciatica

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a specific type of back pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched, trapped or irritated. This irritation of the nerve causes back pain and pain into the buttock, back of the thigh and sometimes the pain can extend into the back of the calf and into the foot.

Just as back pain can vary in intensity so can sciatica and it can occur with or without back pain. Sciatica usually presents over a period of time and can take a couple of months to resolve itself. It can also present as hamstring or calf tightness that can confuse the diagnosis as it can appear as though it is a muscle strain.

What is the sciatic nerve?

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and is made up of individual spinal nerves. The fourth and fifth lumbar nerves as well as the first to third sacral nerves combine to form the sciatic nerve. At its thickest point when all these nerve roots combine the sciatic nerve can be 1.5cm thick.

Where is the sciatic nerve?

The nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve exit from behind the intervertebral disc and in front of the facet joints and it is at this point that the nerve is most susceptible to damage. If the nerve is pinched by a ‘slipped disc’ or disc bulge then the position of this bulge will determine which nerve is pinched. If the disc bulge is more towards the middle then this can be more serious.

Signs and symptoms of sciatica

The individual nerve roots supply different parts of the leg with neurological innervation and the location of the injury to the nerve will determine where in the leg symptoms appear. Symptoms may be tingling and pins and needles, electric shooting pains down the back of the leg, numbness into the outside of the calf and foot, weakness in muscles and decrease or absent reflexes.

These symptoms may occur with or without back pain but most commonly back pain is present at the onset of symptoms.


If you are suffering from back pain in Islington or you have leg pain make an appointment with our osteopath in Islington at the Angel Osteopathic Clinic and get the correct diagnosis and treatment. Click below to make and appointment.

By Chantal on 9th Oct 2011   Share |

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