As the years roll by, we all seem to fall victim to pain and discomfort in different areas of our body. Most pains we put up with until they become so annoying or debilitating that “something” has to be done. Often, this “something” involves our partners being so fed up with our daily complaints of pain that they make an appointment for us. One of the pains that many of us feel, is what is commonly termed “sciatic pain” or sciatica. Where someone feels “sciatica” can vary, sometimes it is in the buttock, sometimes down the back of the leg and sometimes extending all the way past the knee. Usually, only one leg is effected. Sitting at your desk or watching TV can feel fine, sometimes even going for an extended walk can let you forget that there is this shooting pain just waiting in the background to attack you again once you are standing at the kitchen bench, preparing vegies for your family’s dinner or during that excruciating drive to work in peak hour traffic. It’s also important to pay attention if you have any numbness or weakness, or, if you’re finding it difficult to go the toilet. Any changes like this indicate a more serious problem with your nerves and it’s important to be assessed as soon as possible. This buttock and leg pain can have lots of different causes and may be as simple as removing your wallet from a back pocket whilst driving. After all, for our poor pelvis, sitting on all those bits of plastic we all carry around is a little like sitting on an uncomfortable rock. It’s no wonder that our bottoms hurt after many hours/days/months or years of this type of lopsidedness.
Many people who suffer from this “sciatica” have no idea when the pain began, it just somehow seemed to gradually get worse and more persistent. Bodies are amazing things really, with the amount of challenges we throw at them you would expect any machine to break down and need replacement parts far more quickly than the human body does. It is the accumulation of these “little” challenges over time that most people struggle with. Some bodies have a genetic strength that allow them to behave like a stock horse; gritty and determined to overcome all obstacles with minimal fuss, coping with massive strains and recovering with relative ease, whilst others are closer akin to the finely tuned racehorse, with many adjustments and micro-management needed to achieve health. Regardless of which end of the spectrum of physical health your body lies near, at some point it will tell you that it needs some professional attention.
Nerve pain, like “sciatica” is caused by an irritation (similar to hitting your funny bone in your elbow sending tingling into your hand) or squashing (compression) of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body; quite a strong thing about as thick as your little finger. Many things can put pressure on a nerve, everything from a disc pushing out from between the spinal bones to muscles in the buttock being too tight.
So the next question is; who and where do I go to attend to these aches and pains? An experienced health professional with specific training in this area can be very helpful in terms of providing treatment and helping you learn how to prevent the pain from returning. Assessment is also important in order to make sure you receive the correct treatment and to rule out rare causes of back pain that require specific medical treatment.
The lesser known “hands-on treatment” of Osteopathy has been around for over 100 years and registered practitioners have had 5 years of University training (in Australia) in all the body sciences and can refer for Xrays if needed, but they usually don’t need them to treat you. Osteopaths look at biomechanics, or the way that you move, to diagnose what is causing your pain. Treatment involves stretching of tight muscles or manipulating of joints that don’t move as much as they should. Osteopaths tend to look at your whole body to find a cause rather than just the area that you have pain in, so you may get treatment around your knee when you thought the pain was coming from your hip.
When it has come to the time to seek some professional help for your sciatic pain, there are many options available to you, but the main thing is that if you don’t make that first appointment you can’t begin the path to improvement. The other important thing to remember is that there really is no magic bullet when it comes to longer term pain relief. Most pain takes more than one treatment to “fix” and it often involves you making some changes to the way you sit or move or doing some home stretching to keep muscles loose. Like the old saying, if you always do what you have always done, don’t expect a different outcome.
Written by Brisbane Osteopath, Natalie Rutsche, B.Sc (Clin.Sc) M.H.Sc (Osteopathy)