Sciatica and Back Pain

The source of your back pain and how acute or chronic it is, will help determine the treatment plan best suited for you. Back pain and sciatica are often confused with each other, they can both be highly uncomfortable and disruptive to our everyday lives. Back pain is lokal to the upper, mid, or low back and can be caused by any number of factors from poor posture, an accident or injury. Sciaticaalso known as sciatica neuropathy— is mild to intense low back pain caused by nerve compression. The pain travels into the left or right leg.

Picture of man with back pain.

Diagnosing Sciatica

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in our body.  It begins at our lower back and splits at the base of our spines, extending down towards the buttocks and legs and reaching all the way to both of our feet. When the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated, it triggers pain often described as a “shooting” or “burning” sensation in the lower back, buttocks, legs or feet. Fortunately sciatica often responds to non surgical interventions and Osteopathy is effective in managing and treating sciatica and back pain.

When appropriate osteopathic treatment can complement and even replace drugs or surgery. In this way it contributes significantly to standard health care.

Most Common causes of Sciatica and Back Pain

Generally speaking back pain typically develops as the result of an injury. It can be work related, sports related or even the result of performing an everyday task. Repetitive straining motions, such as leaning down multiple times throughout the day to pick up a child or heavy packages, as well as sudden trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident are commonly found to be the trigger of back pain.

Underlying conditions, such as herniated discs, artois, foramina compression  or degenerative disc disease can make you more vounarable to back pain. If you find it difficult to stand or walk for a prolonged period of time, this might be the reason. But it can also come from postural problems and weakness in the so called "core muscles" that we need to stand up straight with a relaxed posture.

Sciatica is caused by compression or irritation of one or more of its five nerve roots in the lower back. Sciatic type pain is actually a symptom of an underlying problem and not a condition in itself. Many different types of injuries can cause the development of sciatica, including arthritis, bone spurs, or any other injury that impacts the sciatic nerve. Most commonly, we find that people lose their flexibility in the hips and pelvis, which causes the gluteus and hip muscles to become tightened and other parts of the body to work overtime in order to compensate. This, in turn, alters the mechanics of the spine and compresses the sciatic nerve as it travels down the leg.

Why You Should See an Osteopath for Sciatica and Back Pain

Osteopathic treatment is a great place to start when you have pain in your back or experience sciatica-like symptoms. Osteopaths are trained to work with the musculoskeletal system which includes the spine and nervous system as well as muscles, ligaments and joints.

Using Osteopathic Manual Treatment (OMT), the osteopathic physician (DO) focuses on the whole body and may use a variety of different hands-on methods, including:

  • Spinal manipulation
  • Soft tissue massage techniques
  • Articulation – gentle rhythmic joint movements
  • Stretching muscles and joint capsules
  • Muscle energy techniques – encouraging muscles to work against resistance

False sciatica

Anatomical picture of the sciatic nerve.
False Sciatica | Piriformis Syndrome

Our muscles are made up of thousands of small fibers, like a rope created from several small strands of string. With both overuse and underuse, the muscle fibers can become irritated and contract in response. As a result, a painful “knot” of muscles, known as a trigger point, forms. Trigger points can ‘pinch’ the sciatic nerve, causing an intense, radiating pain down the back and legs.

These same ” trigger points” respond well to massage and shockwave therapy that increases circulation and causes them to relax.