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What is Sciatica and What Can I Do About It?

Sciatica is a common diagnosis and occurs when the sciatic nerve, which runs down the back of the leg and supplies many of the muscles in the back and side of the leg, is being pinched or irritated by some other structure. Although the diagnosis of sciatica is very common, it is also very frequently misunderstood and misdiagnosed.


The sciatic nerve originates in the lower lumbar spine (low back) and sacrum (what we think of as our tailbone). It forms a large nerve that moves down into the buttock, then down the back of the leg and supplies muscles all the way down to the foot. Sciatic nerve entrapment can be very painful due to the fact that it is such a large nerve. Depending on where the nerve is trapped, symptoms may vary. The most common places the sciatic nerve can be trapped include the lumbar spine from disc herniations or stenosis (arthritis) in the spine, under the piriformis muscle in the buttock, or at the ischium (sit bone). However, the nerve can become entrapped in other, less common areas as well.


The reason sciatica is often misdiagnosed is because of the sciatic nerve’s size, length, and how many muscles it supplies. There are also other areas that could be the problem that present with similar symptoms to sciatica. Other common injuries that present very similarly to sciatica include hamstring tendinitis, hamstring strains, piriformis pain syndrome, low back pain, and sacroiliac joint (pelvis) dysfunction.


So what should you do if you are experiencing symptoms that you think may be sciatica? Please, please do not google exercises for sciatica! As I mentioned above, it may not actually be sciatica and you may make your symptoms worse. It is important to determine the true cause of these symptoms in order to appropriately treat them, rather than assume it is sciatica. If it is the sciatic nerve, it is important to determine where the nerve is entrapped in order to appropriately treat and resolve these symptoms. If you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain, avoid stretching the nerve or any activities that cause pain, numbness, or tingling.


We commonly treat low back pain, pelvic pain, and sciatic nerve symptoms at Absolute Kinetics PT. If you are experiencing symptoms in your low back and/or legs, reach out to us for a free 10 minute phone consult to learn more about how we can help.


Written by Dr. Alexis Hutchison, PT, DPT, OCS

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