Sciatica is the term given to pain down the leg, which is caused by irritation of the main nerve into the leg: the sciatic nerve. This pain tends to be caused where nerves pass through and emerge from the lower bones of the spine (lumbar vertebrae), which are squeezed by the discs inbetween the bones of the spine. Much of the advice regarding this condition is the same as that for lower back pain.
In sciatica, there is a pain down into the leg, which travels below the knee and may involve the foot. There may be numbness and weakness of the lower leg muscles.
These symptoms may come on their own, but are often combined with lower back pain. The order in which the symptoms appear may vary. Sometimes the back pain comes before the sciatica - other times it will follow.
The most common cause of sciatica is a slipped disc. The discs (or inter-vertebral discs) are the cushions which separate the bones of the spine. The pressures within the discs can reach high levels when we bend or twist, even without carrying a heavy load. If we add to that a heavy load, especially held out at arms length, the pressures rise even higher. If the discs become damaged, this puts pressure on the nerves nearby which causes pain.
You should consult your doctor if you develop sciatica. You must consult your doctor if you cannot adequately control the pain with simple pain killers and/or the pain continues for more than two weeks.
The key points about sciatica are:
Do not worry - it will usually get better on its own, within a few days or possibly a few weeks.
Stay active and if at all possible, stay at work. The pain may force you to rest but this is not a good treatment for back pain or sciatica.
Use simple pain killers like paracetamol or ibuprofen if necessary.
Avoid activities that are likely to put a strain on your back.
See your doctor if you are worried about how you are doing.
Some people benefit from visiting a chiropractor or osteopath. You should consult your doctor before doing so.
If you do have to stay off work, keep this to a minimum and do not expect to be pain-free before you go back.