Is My Pain Really Sciatica? | Physical Therapy for everyBODY
Owner Health Tips

"Regular Health Tips From Dr. Amy Konvalin Delivered to Your Inbox..."

Use the Form Below to Get Them All Sent to You for FREE

Is My Pain Really Sciatica?

Sciatica Pain

Sciatica pain is literally a pain in the...behind!

You may be suffering with pain that you believe is sciatica but how do you know? And, if it is sciatica, what can you do about it?

You are in the right place!

Today we will dive into what true sciatica pain is, what causes sciatica in the first place, and what you can do about your sciatica pain.

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is aggravation of the sciatic nerve through either direct compression or local irritation. You see, the sciatic nerve is made up of four nerve roots from your low back and you sacrum. They exit the spinal cord at their appropriate level and then come together to form the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve then travels down through the deep hip muscles, through the hamstrings, and to the outside of your knee. At this point, the sciatic nerve splits and forms two branches. One that goes down the outside of your calf while the other one travels down the back of your calf.

Since it’s such a long nerve, there are multiple points it can get compressed which leads to irritation and pain.

The best known point is in the low back where you can have a herniated or ruptured disc. A herniated disc is one that is bulging out. This bulge can put increased pressure on the sciatic nerve and irritate it leading to your pain. Or the disc may be ruptured which means the disc material that is supposed to be inside is actually outside the disc. The discal material that is in the wrong spot can cause an irritation of the sciatic nerve.

The next most popular spot for the sciatic nerve to get compressed is as it travels through the deep hip muscles, particularly the piriformis. This is called piriformis syndrome. The sciatic nerve travels either through or underneath the piriformis and can get compressed if the piriformis is tight.

If you are suffering with piriformis syndrome you may think it’s as easy as loosening up the piriformis. But, the truth is, it’s important to deal with WHY the piriformis got tight in the first place. This is commonly due to poor alignment through your pelvis that needs to be addressed for this problem to be eliminated for good.

The last spot where the sciatic nerve can get tethered down, compressed, and irritated is on the outside of the knee. This is near the head of the fibula which is the smaller bone running the length of the shin. This location has many muscles attaching and is the end of the IT there’s a ton of fascia here, too.

Although the fibular head location is not commonly known as a site of compression for sciatica, it often comes into play when there is irritation of the nerve further up the chain. You see, it’s all connected!

What Are the Signs of Sciatica?

Every body is different and expressions of sciatica can be different. This makes it difficult for people who are searching for help on-line or talking with their friends and family about their pain. Because what works for one person who has sciatica may actually be harmful for the next person.

In fact, some people who are suffering with sciatica pain may have horrendous back pain while others have no back pain at all. You may be suffering with pain down the front of your leg and wondering if it’s sciatica. So, here we are covering ALL of the common signs of sciatica so you can test yourself and see if this sounds like you.

  • Pain in the low back – your sciatica pain may start in your low back near the spine or just to the side of the spine.
  • Pain down the back of the thigh – the most common sign of sciatica. In fact, many people report that they have chronically tight hamstrings.
  • Pain down the side and/or back of the calf – following the sciatic nerve down it’s path to where it splits at the outside of your knee.
  • Numbness and tingling in the calf and/or foot – a sign of increased pressure at the outside of the knee.
  • Straight leg raise is positive – while you are lying on your back, have someone passively lift your leg straight up as if to stretch your hamstrings. If you get numbness and tingling in your foot then you most likely have sciatica.
  • Decreased strength in plantarflexion – standing on one foot, lift your heel off the ground. You should be able to perform 20 repetitions on each leg.
  • Lateral shift – when you are standing or walking people comment that you look like you are shifted to the side.
  • Limp with walking – often trying to walk with sciatica can cause PAIN so people limp to avoid the painful sciatic nerve.

Can Sciatica Pain Go Away?

Many people want to know if sciatica pain can actually be eliminated. The answer is – YES! AND, you have to deal with what caused the problem in the first place. You need to work with a Specialist who understands sciatica and will honestly assess your body to see what caused this problem in the first place.

You see, many people believe that their sciatic pain started all of a sudden, out of nowhere, and while performing an every day motion. The truth is that your body has been performing abnormal movement patterns for some time and the sciatic nerve finally got irritated enough to start talking. This is why it is so important to deal with the root cause of your pain so this sciatic pain does not come back again!

Most sciatic pain can heal over time with the proper treatment. However, if you are suffering from sudden weakness where you are not able to walk, bowel or bladder incontinence, or urinary retention then it is time to head straight to the doctor. These are the red flags of sciatica pain and need to be addressed immediately.

What Can I Do About Sciatic Pain?

If you have made it this far then you are sure that you have sciatic pain. And, I want to tell you what I would say if you walked into my clinic with a recent onset of sciatica.

Ice – Ice is a powerful pain inhibitor and it calms the system down. Ice for 3-5 minutes every hour at the location of pain. If your pain is traveling down the sciatic nerve then “follow it” with the ice pack.

  • Deep breathing – while you are icing perform some deep breathing. This will help to alleviate pressure in the abdominal cavity as well as activating your vagus nerve which helps to calm the body down.
  • Gentle movements – perform gentle, pain free movements while icing. Remember, these motions must be pain free in order to work correctly.
  • Walk every hour – get up and move your body every hour. Walk around the house or around the block. Only move as much as you can pain free (which is a very delicate balance!).
  • Get help from a Specialist – you need a Specialist to walk your body through sciatic pain and to teach your the tools to eliminate this pain for good. If you are wondering “how did I get here” then it’s the right time to reach out to our team to get help for your sciatic pain. We offer a 100% Free Discovery Visit where we will discuss exactly what you should be doing for your sciatic pain right now and see if you are a good fit for what we offer here at Physical Therapy for every BODY.

Sciatic pain does go away (I promise!) but it’s important to make sure you heal correctly so this problem doesn’t come back in the future.

Looking for Answers to Sciatica Frequently Asked Questions?

What’s the Difference Between Piriformis Syndrome and Sciatica?

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Struggling with pain and dysfunction can impact every part of our lives — it drains our energy, distracts us from our goals, and keeps us from the people and activities we love. As an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Dr. Amy Konvalin understands how frustrating those limitations can be — and she knows how to help get you back to the life you want to live! Beginning with a focused evaluation, Dr. Amy works to determine the root causes of your pain, as well as understanding how it affects the way you move through your world. Dysfunctional patterns of movement often grow worse with time and cause further damage if left untreated — so it’s important to address these issues as soon as possible. Dr. Amy knows there is no one-size-fits-all plan for success, and she partners with patients to identify their unique treatment goals and personal values. Using these goals as a guide, Amy uses her doctorate training in manual (hands-on) therapy and exercise prescription to treat patients with a wide variety of medical challenges and histories throughout the Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Covington areas. Dr. Amy is also a wife to a Boeing superstar/former C-130 navigator. While they lived in Germany, Dr. Amy was able to volunteer with the US Army to treat military personnel and civilians on base. She has two beautiful teenage ballerinas who keep her on her toes and educate her on all things ballet! Bailey, the princess pup, is her running partner and her napping partner. In the spare moments in between, Amy enjoys reading, yoga, wine with friends, Pilates, and walking on the beach.
Dr. Amy Konvalin

Latest posts by Dr. Amy Konvalin (see all)

Google Rating
Based on 30 reviews
Share This