The sciatic nerve runs down the back of the leg, and when it is irritated, it causes sciatica. Sciatica is simply a collection of symptoms from the sciatic nerve, such as a shooting pain, pins and needles, or numbness. These symptoms will be in the back of the leg, but not all pain here is associated with the nerve. Your osteopath can diagnose your thigh pain.

Causes of sciatica

Causes of Sciatica

It may develop alongside lower back pain. For example, the sciatic nerve can be irritated by something as basic as a tight muscle, which in turn can be a side effect of many different things. So as painful and annoying as sciatica can be, it’s not necessarily an indicator of a major problem.

The diagram above shows two causes:

C) a disc bulge
D) a spondylolisthesis

A bulging disc can affect the nerve physically- by compressing it, or chemically if the disc leaks onto the nerve.

Spondylolisthesis is the only time something goes “out of place” in a back! It is not common, and can be either traumatic, where a small part of a bone is fractured, or congenital. This means that you were born with an unusually shaped vertebra. It may be totally asymptomatic, or it might cause some lower back pain or sciatica.

Sciatica can also be a side effect of pregnancy. This may be due to changes in weight-bearing: to counteract the weight of the bump, the lower back might arch more than pre-pregnancy. This makes the muscles around the back and buttocks tighter. One deep muscle in the buttocks can be very close to the sciatic nerve. In some people the nerve actually runs through the muscle. Tightening in these cases can easily cause irritation to the sciatic nerve, but in the best cases it can be resolved with little more than stretching or massage.

Treating Sciatica

This is one of the most common symptoms we see in clinic. Treatment will vary depending on the cause and other factors, but typically we use a combination of hands on treatment and exercise.

Along with managing your symptoms, your osteopath can give advice. If your pain has worried you, you might think that bed rest is a good idea. However, your osteopath may tell you that some activities might help speed up your recovery. We know that pain is closely linked to psychology, so if you do want to get back to something you love, tell your osteopath. We treat the patient, not the diagnosis, so we can work with your individual goals in mind.


If your symptoms have been going on for a long time, they might take longer to resolve. However, nerve pain is particularly multifactorial. Other factors affecting prognosis might include:

  • How far down your leg the symptoms go
  • Whether or not this is your first episode
  • The original cause of irritation to the sciatic nerve
  • Your understanding and expectations of your case

As always: the sooner the pain is addressed, the better.

Do you have symptoms that might be sciatica? Make an appointment today.