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Understanding Sciatica

Published: February 21, 2024

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a condition where the sciatic nerve gets irritated or injured. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in our body where it travels down your hips, buttocks and legs. It is most prevalent among the middle-aged population and it is estimated about 5-10% of Australians experiencing low back pain have sciatica. However, true injury to the sciatic nerve is usually rare, any pain that travels down the path of sciatic nerve are considered sciatic pain.

Signs and symptoms

It is often described as nerve pain travels down from the buttock to the back of the legs. Pain type may vary from an achy pain to a sharp burning pain. Sciatica symptoms could be constant or comes and goes, tingling and numbness in the leg are common symptoms. It is usually affecting one leg but could also occur on both sides. You may feel low back pain and weakness at your legs. Pain is often aggravated with sitting, coughing, sneezing and going to the toilet.

Common causes

  • Herniated/ Slipped disc: Discs are fluid-filled discs sitting between your spinal vertebra, herniated or slipped disc can cause an increase in pressure of the discs, the pressure from vertebra can cause the disc to bulge which presses on the sciatic nerve.
  • Degenerative disc diseases: Wearing of the disc will shorten its height, allowing narrower passage for the nerve to pass through. It can pinch the sciatic nerve as it leaves its nerve root. This is known as spinal stenosis.
  • Spondylolisthesis: It is a condition where the disc slipped from its vertebra and may presses on and irritates the sciatic nerve.

Other risk factors for sciatica includes,

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Work demands involving bending and lifting heavy weights
  • Sedentary lifestyles

How can physiotherapy help?

It is important to seek professional help and advice if you are experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms. Most importantly, your physiotherapist will help to ensure there is no need for urgent medical investigations for any serious medical conditions such as cauda equina syndrome, infection and spinal tumours.

Sciatica usually resolves within 6 weeks to 3 months. Acute stages of sciatica could be extremely painful and affect your daily activities. It is important, apart from having sufficient pain medication, to maintain back movements and restore activities as soon as possible to prevent any complications.

Physiotherapy treatments usually involve manual therapy, exercise, advice on pacing and working towards improving functional capacity. Manual therapy including joint mobilisation, soft tissue release and nerve glide help to desensitise the inflamed soft tissues, reduce inflammation and relieve back muscle tension. Furthermore, it is important to get your back and legs stronger to relief pressure on the sciatic nerve. You will benefit from targeted strengthening and stretching programme to prevent future attacks and flare up of back pain.  Your physiotherapist will select the most appropriate exercises and guide you to exercise safely and effectively.


If you would like to learn more about sciatica, the physiotherapists at Back In Motion Como would love to help!


Phone Number: 9313 3414