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  • Writer's pictureAJ Kirkpatrick, PT, DPT

What Is Sciatica?

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Sciatica is a term commonly used to describe radiating pain and/or numbness/tingling into the buttocks and/or anywhere down into the back of the leg. The term “Sciatica” has evolved to become an umbrella term to describe any of these symptoms as they appear for a number of different reasons. One important factor to remember, is that “Sciatica” is a term used to describe symptoms and it is not a diagnosis. There are a number of different causes that can create “sciatica-like” symptoms but do not initially allow a proper diagnosis of the actual cause of the symptoms without a proper evaluation process. The true cause of sciatica symptoms are from the sciatic nerve being pinched somewhere near where it exits the spine. This typically happens by a bulging or herniated disc which puts pressure onto the nerve, disrupting the integrity of the signals running through this nerve. This causes symptoms in a number of different areas in the leg which depends on the level of the spine that the nerve is being pinched. These symptoms can easily be confused with what has been termed “piriformis syndrome.” Piriformis syndrome causes sciatic-like symptoms down into the leg, but instead of the nerve being pinched at the root, where it exits the spine, it gets pinched by the piriformis muscle in the buttocks area. This is just one of the more typical areas for the sciatic nerve to be pinched, as it may be pinched anywhere down the line as it travels through the hamstrings as well. The goal is to release the nerve from being pinched to allow for smooth transfer of nerve conduction signals.


What Do I Do If I Experience “Sciatica-like” Symptoms?


Sciatica can be a very debilitating issue if allowed to progress and worsen. It is important to diagnose the root of the problem to begin the rehabilitation process as quickly as possible. Physical therapists are expertly trained in diagnosing the most likely cause of your symptoms and creating a plan of care to work your way back to a symptom free lifestyle, depending on the severity of the issue. Whether you are truly experiencing sciatica or any other sciatica-like issue, the treatment action may be similar. We must first figure out WHERE the nerve is being pinched, next we must figure out WHY this is happening, and we will then use a multitude of different rehabilitation techniques which would be specifically customized to the cause of your issue. If you are in the Mission Viejo area and think you, or someone you know, might benefit from physical therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out!



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