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What is Sciatica?

I often see patients at the clinic complaining of sciatica, which is commonly described as a shooting pain originating in the lower back or buttock and traveling down the leg to the foot. Sciatica is not a diagnosis itself, but more a symptom of an underlying condition, causing compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, and is made up of a number of nerve roots that branch out from the spine in the lower back, and connect to form the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of the leg.

A figure drawing of the lower back to thigh, highlighting the sciatic nerve.

The most common causes of sciatica is a herniation or bulging of one of the discs in the lower back. As the disc bulges backwards it can compress or irritate one of the close lying nerve roots. Other causes include degenerative disc disease whereby bone spurs can compress the nerve root, spondylolisthesis which is a slippage of one vertebra on another secondary to a stress fracture, and spinal stenosis which is a narrowing of the spinal canal over time, often due to arthritic changes.

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A figure drawing of a herniated disc on the human body.

​If you are suffering from sciatica, the treatment will vary depending on what is causing it. Chiropractors are well trained in the diagnosis of these conditions, and following a thorough physical examination be able to provide appropriate treatment and further testing or imaging/scans as necessary. In most cases symptoms will settle with a course of manual treatment and exercises. Depending on the severity, co-management with your GP will be needed if symptoms fail to improve.

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