In order to understand “Sciatica”, firstly we must know what the Sciatic Nerve actually is. Nerves are like the electricity wires of the body. They carry the signal from the brain to the area it needs to act on, such as muscles, organs and systems etc. The Sciatic Nerve is the main nerve of the lower body. Its roots stem out from the spinal cord at L4 through to S3, continuing down the back of the hip and thigh, into the lower leg and terminating at the foot really.
The term Sciatica then is an umbrella term for any pain that starts into the back of the hip, and travels down the back of the leg. With the idea it is following along this nerve pathway.
Often this pain can be misinterpreted as damage to the nerve, this is mostly not the case.
Along with this there are multiple things that may cause a similar travelling pain.
Sciatic pain may not run all the way down the leg.
It may only run down to the bottom of the buttock, or halfway down the thigh.
Each person may feel a different sensation with it. Some may feel a dull achy sensation, others may feel an intense deadening pain, while others may experience some numbness.
What is causing my sciatica pain?
If we come back to our nerves being the electricity wires analogy for a moment. Due to the “Wires” running the whole way down the leg, this means they have to pass through a series of tunnels between muscles and even through some muscles. Now imagine some of those muscles become tight or spasmed, those tunnels will narrow and will grip hold of the nerve. Thus affecting the nerve and disrupting its signal. This is one potential cause. This is the most common cause, and usually a muscle in the bum called your piriformis doing the harm.
Another potential cause is from a fall or trip and landing bum first (imagine a child falling learning to walk) this will compress the nerve and may cause some irritation of it. Leading to an over firing of the electricity supply if you will.
While another cause could be stemming from a compression of the nerve roots as they exit the spinal canal. You may have heard horror stories about discs compressing or “pinching nerves”. Yes, this can happen but is not as dreadful as it sounds.
Another cause could be that the nerve became over stretched too fast too soon. Imagine the moves a gymnast does, and trying to do them yourself. It’s going to feel uncomfortable in some way or another. The nerves can become over stretched, just like muscles, and can give off a painful sensation.
So what do I do when the nerve pain hits?
Firstly, breathe. Breathing in a controlled manner has been seen to calm the nervous system. This is a nerve issue in most cases, so by calming the nerve, you can aid in calming the pain. Click here for a video on optimal breathing.
These tips can help with sciatica pain
Do I need to get an MRI for Sciatica?
In most cases no, if it’s hitting both sides at the same time, and your pain is unrelenting with no let off, then yes. But again, in most cases it is not necessary. Especially before being assessed.