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Sciatica is a term used to describe pain that arises from the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that starts from the lower back and runs from there, through the buttocks, down into the back of the leg.
Sciatic nerve pain can come from irritation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back or buttocks. Symptoms can include pain in the back of the leg which may be accompanied by pain in the lower back. Often this pain is described as sharp, shooting pain or burning pain. This pain can be irritated by long periods of sitting, or by stretching the legs, with taking long steps with walking, for example. With symptoms in the back of the leg, your physiotherapist will examine the lower back to see if this is the cause.
Due to the location of the pain in the back of the leg, sciatic nerve pain may be confused with a hamstring strain. However a hamstring strain will often occur during sprinting and the patient will remember the incident, this is not normally the case with sciatica. Also strength testing of the hamstrings will be painful and can be weak. This would be unusual with sciatic nerve pain.
Many treatments can be helpful to aid the resolution of sciatica. As with the majority of back problems, keeping moving can be helpful for treatment of sciatic nerve irritation. Mobilisation of the joints in the lower back and trigger point dry needling of the gluteal muscles can relieve pain. Education about ergonomics and posture can be really helpful. A functional assessment of movement may be beneficial to identify any movement ‘flaws’ that may have contributed to the development of sciatic nerve pain.