Sciatica – A real pain in the bum

With Lousie Evans

JUNE2012Sciaticapic1We are joined this month by Louise Evans. Louise is an Advanced Clinical Massage Therapist with 19 years experience. She is dedicated to making bodywork a clinical, Professional therapy and is currently working toward the UK’s highest qualification in massage therapy “BTEC 6 Professional Diploma in neuromuscular and sports therapy” which on completion in October will be the only holder in Wales. 

Did you know that the sciatic nerve, at its widest is ¾” thick in diameter?  It’s the largest, strongest and longest nerve in the body originating in the spine in the lower back passing through the buttocks and its branches travel down the back of the leg and into the foot. 

Its primary job is to transmit signals from the brain and along its pathway.  These signals are responsible for relaying sensations of pain and feeling, as well as transmitting impulses that give rise to muscle movement. The sciatic nerve is responsible for feeling and movement in many leg muscles. 

The chances are that some of you reading this now have suffered or know someone who has suffered with some degree of pain from compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve …… Sciatica.  So what happens along that tract that can cause symptoms such as foot numbness, back pain and tingling sensations because after all, sciatica is a symptom of an underlying problem. Statistics tell us that a slipped disc is the most common cause of sciatica but in some cases, after investigation, there is no obvious cause.

The first port of call should be your GP to establish the cause and work on a suitable treatment.  NHS guidelines advise that,

“Most people find their sciatic pain goes away naturally within a few days or weeks.”  However, see your GP if: 

JUNE2012Sciaticapic2You experience any other symptoms together with your back and leg pain, such as weight loss or loss of bladder or bowel control you experience increasingly more pain and discomfort your pain is too severe to manage with self-help measures

In these cases, your GP should check whether there is a more serious problem causing your pain.”

But, what if you have seen your GP, had all investigations and have religiously done all the given exercises and the pain remains?  No obvious cause. Where do you go from here?

The suspect just could be a muscle located in your buttock called Piriformis.  Because the sciatic nerve runs underneath (sometimes through) this muscle there is considerable potential for the Piriformis to compress or entrap the nerve.

Certain activities can aggravate this muscle such as sitting for long periods, running and stair climbing.

So, what can you do to relieve this muscle from compressing the Sciatic nerve?

Remove any large items from your back pocket and avoid “credit-card-itis”. Believe it or not carrying a wallet

or large object in your back pocket can cause inflammation of the

Piriformis muscle which could in turn

lead to compression and irritation of the sciatic nerve.

If you sit for long periods at a time it is advisable to get up and take a walk as often as you can to loosen your muscles.

Stretching. Try gently stretching the Piriformis muscle by lying on your back with your feet on the floor and the knees bent, cross the leg on the unaffected side over the leg on the affected side.  Use the upper leg to gently pull the lower leg toward the floor.

The emphasis here should be Gently stretch as stretching too far tightens the very muscles you are trying to stretch and the key to reducing muscle tension is regularity and relaxation. 

Remember that each one of us is unique with our own comfort levels and if we learn about our body and its needs we have the potential to

gradually build a foundation of fitness that lasts a lifetime.

Louise specialises in Myofascial release techniques for treatment of chronic pain and is committed to the education of soft tissue injuries to empower people to manage their pain effectively.  Louise also runs Stretch classes and works from Swansea Clinic of Natural Medicine, Walter Rd.  The Natural Health Service, Killay Precinct, Killay and Bryncoch, Neath.  For more information on Louise, the treatments or classes please visit her website

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