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What are the common symptoms of sciatica

Sciatica is a commonly experienced condition that results in lower back pain that radiates from the nerves in the back to one or both legs. It is caused by irritation to, or damage of, the sciatic nerve, which runs from the spine all the way down to the feet. It is most common amongst those who are over 40 but can affect all ages.

Sciatica can be anything from mild to very painful and can last for weeks or even months. If your symptoms continue for more than six weeks, you have what is known as persistent (chronic) sciatica.

Sciatica is different from ‘normal’ back pain, in that it may hardly affect the back at all. Instead, the pain radiates out from the lower back, down the buttocks and into one or both legs, right down to the calves. The pain often gets worse over time, and can often be made worse by a sudden movement or exertion such as with sneezing, coughing or laughing, standing or sitting for a long time, or bending backwards. Patients affected by sciatica describe their pain as comparable to an ‘electric shock’ running through their legs, or a ‘pins and needles’ sensation coupled with numbness and weakness. In most cases, sciatica only affects one side of the body.

A patient’s symptoms associated with sciatica often diminish while lying down or walking, but tend to get worse while sitting, standing for a long time, or bending backwards.


What causes sciatica

Sciatica is caused by irritation to, or damage of, the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the largest in the human body, running from the spine all the way to the feet.

One of the most common causes of this problem of the sciatic nerve is a herniated or slipped disc. Normally, spinal discs act as shock absorbers and help protect the nerves between the vertebrae. However, a herniated disc can bulge out and put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing irritation.

As a result, age can be a risk factor in developing sciatica, as spinal discs tend to deteriorate over time. Another risk factor is regular heavy lifting or a lack of regular exercise.

Mild, short-term sciatica is not usually something to worry about as the symptoms should go away without any treatment. So if the pain is mild and lasts for less than six weeks, you probably will not need medical intervention. However, if you are in a lot of pain or weakness, or the sciatica continues for more than six weeks, make sure you see your GP. Our spine specialists can help to pinpoint any serious conditions that could be causing the problem.


What are the best treatments for sciatica?

For mild sciatica, our treatment focuses on reducing pain and quickening recovery time, with surgery rarely required. It can also often be primarily treated at home. The most common treatments include:

  • Painkillers – over the counter painkillers should help to bring the pain down. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen will probably work best.
  • Exercise – resting in bed may help ease the pain temporarily, but it’s important to stay as active as possible. Walking and gentle stretching can really help.
  • Surgery – if painkillers and exercise don’t work, or if you have weakness our specialist spine surgeon can remove a small part of the prolapsed disc.

If you have chronic sciatica, treatment may include all of the above, as well as the injection of a corticosteroid and a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described above and suspect you may have sciatica, please contact us via phone on 020 8629 1889email info@wimbledonclinics.co.uk or use the form on this page. We will then be able to organise a convenient time where you can meet one of our expert team of sports physicians who will be able to help assess your condition further.