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“Sciatica”A word that describes a symptom

“I've been told I've got a touch of sciatica”people often tell me. Not surprising, it is a common symptom. Let's debunk some of the confusion that people can have around this word though.

Sciatica is word that describes a symptom. This symptom comprises of a pain running through the buttock and down one leg, sometimes both, down the back of the thigh into the calf and sometimes in to the foot. It is sometimes accompanied by tingling or numbness in this distribution.

It is not a word describing pain in another distribution of the leg, for example the front of the thigh and it is not a word to describe a pain in the arm as some people have thought on occasions.

Sciatica is a word that describes a symptom, it is not a diagnosis. If you visit your doctor and tell him you have pain in your bum, running down the back of your leg to the calf and he says “You have sciatica” he has just told you, in one word, that you have a pain in your bum, running down the back of your leg to your calf. You leave, happy to have a diagnosis. Would you be so impressed if you went to him to explain you had a pain in your head and he told you that you have a headache?

Sciatica is a word that describes a symptom. Have I already said that? It can often be caused by irritation on the sciatic nerve or some of the nerve roots in the lower back that form part of the sciatic nerve. This nerve irritation commonly stems from problems in the lower lumbar discs or degenerative changes in this area of the spine. The pain of sciatica can be produced by other problems though, such as referred pain from the joints and muscles of the low back in the absence of any nerve irritation or referred pain from the hip joint or surrounding muscles. It can even be a symptom of a circulatory problem on some rarer occasions. Suffice it to say that sciatica is a word that describes a symptom whose cause can be many, so a little more exploration may be required to bottom out (pardon the pun) the source.

If you think you may be suffering from sciatica visit your local osteopath or physiotherapist and they will be able to examine you to determine the likely cause, if this is treatable at the time, or if further investigations may be required.

Dave Heath

 

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