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It’s Sciatica – Or Is It?

Demonstrating a healthy nerve by showing water running freely through a hosepipe to accompany the blog by Lizzie Wright on sciatica

September 19th, 2018 23 post views

As a massage therapist at Lushington Chiropractic in Eastbourne, I often have clients come to me reporting that they are suffering with sciatica. However a common occurrence is that after investigation we find that the client isn’t suffering with sciatica at all, but rather an injury that presents similar to the symptom of sciatica.

What is Sciatica?

We often find a common misconception is that people believe Sciatica is a condition. However Sciatica is a term used for the symptom of pain, pins and needles or tingling running down the leg originating from the lower back, travelling along the Sciatic Nerve. This can occur due to muscle or structural weakness that causes the Sciatic Nerve to be compressed.

All nerves originate from our spinal column (the central nervous system) that sends the information to our brain. The Sciatic Nerve originates from the lumbar and sacral vertebrae of the spine (lower back) and travels down through the pelvis and hip joint, all the way along the back of the leg to the foot. Any information received from this root is taken back to the spine and to the brain.

How do Nerves Work?

A handy way to think of how nerves work is to imagine a hosepipe – Strange I know.

Demonstrating a healthy nerve by showing water running freely through a hosepipe to accompany the blog by Lizzie Wright on sciatica

Hosepipe with Flowing Water to Represent Sciatic Nerve Root

You have turned the water on and it is flowing through the hose and out the end (this is a healthy nerve). Then if you put your foot on the pipe (compression) the water flowing out the end is constricted. This is what is happening to our nerves. The signal is no longer being efficiently sent to and from the end of the nerve root. So if the compression occurs at your knee the nerve root will stop there. This causes numbness or pins and needles to run down the rest of the leg.

Demonstrating a compressed nerve by showing restricted water flow through a hosepipe to accompany the blog by Lizzie Wright on sciatica

Hosepipe with Compression preventing Water to flow representing compressed Nerve Root

What to Look For If Suspecting Sciatica:

The massage therapists at Lushington Chiropractic in Eastbourne suggest looking for signs such as numbness, pins and needles, tingling, hot and cold feelings, burning and sharp shooting pains.

The symptoms are directly linked to nerve conditions. If you are experiencing these symptoms down the back of your leg then that would be suggestion of a compression of the Sciatic Nerve.

Can Sports Massage Help Sciatica?

If you are suffering from sciatica sports massage can help. Depending on where the compression is occurring and the severity of pain, we can open up the area by loosening tight muscles and areas that are compressing the nerve.

What Else Could It Be?

I do often have clients come to me suspecting sciatica, but turning out to be something completely different, such as hamstring strain or tendinopathy for example. Both these injuries report pain down the back of the leg sometimes across the joints of the knee and hip. Therefore I believe that is helpful to know key differences and thus you can be more involved in the healing process.

Hamstring Strain?

The reason a hamstring strain can be misinterpreted as sciatica is that the injury causes pain to radiate down the muscles at the back of the leg above the knee.

Mans legs, side view showing the hamstring muscles to accompany the blog by Lizzie Wright on sciatica

Side view showing the hamstring muscles.

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of upper leg responsible for bending the knee and extending the hip.

Hamstring strain is the most common thigh muscle injury and is when the muscle fibres tear. It can occur suddenly from overstretching of the muscle if the muscle is not warmed up properly or it can occur over time due to tight muscles.

So it can occur from doing everyday movements such as walking upstairs, a large jump or even during a long walk along Eastbourne’s South Downs or even Eastbourne’s seafront.

Contributing factors to injury are lack of stretching, poor posture, muscle strength imbalances and the rare case of leg length variation.

The result is pain along the back of the leg, increasing when the knee is in an extended position and hip flexed (knee straight, sitting position). This is why it is commonly mistaken for sciatica.

Treatment:

The immediate thing to do is treat with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) you should do this for the first 3-5 days. Then with sports massage (provided at Lushington Chiropractic located here in Eastbourne’s town centre), we can help increase range of movement of the muscle and strengthening by aiding the tissue repair.

Image shows a man's knee with towel acting as barrier, ice in bag is on top of the knee to accompany the blog by Lizzie Wright on sciatica

Ice applied to reduce swelling. Part of RICE.

Tendinopathy:

Tendinopathy is another injury mistaken for sciatica. The reason why this can easily get confused is that tendons often cross over a joint, like the knee and the hip, causing pain to be felt in those areas.

Tendinopathy can occur in any tendon and is an overuse injury, due to muscle imbalance and poor body mechanics of movement.

Symptoms are pain, swelling and an inability to continue activities such as running.

Treatment:

Initially RICE and avoidance of high- impact actives.

Sports massage can help by stretching the muscle, strengthening, and prescribing closed-chain exercises such as squats or leg press.

You don’t have to be a chiropractic patient in order to benefit from a massage. At Lushington Chiropractic in Eastbourne we do have 4 massage therapists (male and female), working throughout the week including evenings and Saturday mornings.

For more information about sciatica have a look at our other blogs on our chiropractic blog site backblog.

Lizzie Wright

Categories: Health and Advice from Expert Chiropractors in EastbourneLushington Chiropractic

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