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What is sciatica?

Published: November 4, 2021

“Sciatica” is a term used to describe pain and/or paresthesia mostly caused by a herniated lumbar disc where the nerve root is compressed.

Approximately 90% of patient presentations, sciatica can be attributed to this presentation. Once a lumbar nerve root is compressed, this can result in inflammation. Evidence suggests that sciatica is a combination of pressure-related, inflammatory, and immunological processes of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar spine region.

What is the sciatic nerve?

 The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the whole body and connects the L4-S2 nerve roots of the spine together at the pelvis as shown in this picture. The formation of these nerve roots at the pelvis creates the sciatic nerve which runs down to the foot. This nerve provides direct motor and indirect sensory feedback to the lower limb muscle groups.


Sciatica symptoms can vary from person-to-person, but predominantly present with

  • walking difficulties
  • increased lower back and buttock pain
  • radiating leg pain, numbness and/or muscular weakness
  • increased leg pain with coughing, sneezing and/or taking a deep breath.

Risk factors for sciatica include:

  • Age-related changes of the spine
  • Obesity
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Diabetes
  • Occupation (i.e., repetitive heavy lifting, twisting, driving)

Research suggests, conservative treatment is suggested as a first line of management. Sciatica can be treated with multiple forms of therapy dependent on a patient’s presentation. Our physiotherapists will perform a thorough subjective and objective assessment to develop a tailored treatment plan using an evidence-based approach to treat your needs.

These forms of therapy can include:

  • Manual therapy
  • Trigger point and dry needling therapy
  • Education and advice regarding posture and staying active
  • Exercise prescription therapy (i.e. home exercise programs, muscle strengthening, core stability)

Commonly acute low back pain can be misunderstood and be interpreted for sciatica pain. Please do not panic if you get back pain and be put off by medical jargon, your health professional will assist in understanding what triggers your low back pain. Additionally, the best for long-term improvement is remaining active and avoiding prolonged bed rest as exercise prevents future episodes occurring.

So if you are experiencing sciatica symptoms, please do not hesitate to call us on (03) 8742 6073 or (03) 9395 0319, so then we can assist you in returning to optimal health.


Koes, B., van Tulder, M., & Peul, W. (2007). Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ, 334(7607), 1313-1317.

Konstantinou, K., & Dunn, K. (2008). Sciatica. Spine, 33(22), 2464-2472.

Ostelo, R. (2020). Physiotherapy management of sciatica. Journal Of Physiotherapy, 66(2), 83-88. doi: 10.1016/j.jphys.2020.03.005