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Ask a Therapist! What is Sciatica?

Heather Oct 23, 2013

If you are lucky enough not to have experienced it, you have more than likely heard about it.  Sciatica, also known as Sciatic nerve pain, is a fairly common complaint in most Massage Therapist's offices.  The most common symptom is pain that radiates from your low back or hip and can reach all the way down to your toes in extreme cases.  To truly understand what this disease is you have to understand a bit of the anatomy that comes into play.

The Sciatic Nerve is actually a group of nerves that exit the spinal column in the lower back or 'lumbar' region.  These nerves combine fairly quickly once they exit the spine to flow down the leg all the way to the toes.  It is an amazingly long and thick column of nerve fibers and if there is any damage to the fibers, the pain will radiate down the length of the leg.  To make things even more confusing, sometimes the pain skips regions, like the glutes and hamstrings and just show up in the lower leg and foot.  

This pain is caused by several different problems.  The most common reason for Sciatica is compression in the low back, herniated disks or arthritis of the lumbar area.  Since the nerve originates here, the low back can compress the nerves and send shooting pain down the legs.  People who sit for long periods are usually sitting directly on the nerve itself.  Over time that will cause pain to radiate down the legs, or cause numbness and tingling in the feet.  It is never a good idea to compress a nerve bundle, you are bound to get problems.  It only takes the pressure of a quarter to cause damage to a nerve, and I can pretty much guarantee that you weigh more than a quarter.  If you spend a lot of time sitting, be sure to spend a good amount of time moving to offset the stagnation that occurs within the system. 

There are other factors involved with Sciatica, narrowing of the spinal canal, bone spurs, injuries, etc. A good Massage Therapist will talk to you about your symptoms and ask questions about your level of activity and daily habits to help determine the best course of treatment.  If you are experiencing pain already it will take a few sessions to address each issue involved but you will notice a change in pain levels after your first appointment!  As always, discuss your health and wellness goals with your Doctor to determine if massage is right for you!  

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