Have you ever experienced, or know someone that has experienced low back pain with symptoms shooting down the back, side, or front of their leg? There may be no explanation for this, but more often than not, you will hear the term ‘sciatica’ thrown around.
“I have sciatica down my leg”
“My sciatic nerve is damaged again”
Whilst there may be occasions where this is true, you or the person in question may be experiencing sciatica. However, more often than not, this is not necessarily the case. What is far more likely is that you are having an episode of lower back pain, with what we call lumbar radiculopathy. Put in simpler terms, your nerve root is being compressed, which is causing pain, tingling, numbness, etc. down your leg.
A little more info
To be clear, these can both be very debilitating, and at times excruciating, but they are often not dangerous. The purpose of this article is to help understand the difference between the two, normalise your nerve pain, and give you some information on what you can do!
The sciatic nerve is easily the largest nerve in the body. It can be as wide as 2cm in diameter, as runs from your lower back, all the way down to your foot. Therefore, pain involving the sciatic nerve can present in many ways and in more than one region. The same can be said about lower back with radiculopathy, meaning both can present very similarly.
Does a disc bulge have anything to do with this compression?
This is a great question that some people may have. The true answer is, every case is different! Disc bulges have been a hot topic in the health industry for a long period. In some instances, individuals can have a disc bulge for years and never know, because it doesn’t cause them any pain or discomfort. In others, someone can have a minor disc bulge, causing a compression to the structures around it, and therefore resulting in pain. Therefore it is best to keep it simple, the treatment is the same, disc bulge or not.
What can I actually do?
For starters, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, don’t take it on alone. Get to your local physiotherapist for some treatment, advice, and most importantly, exercise! It is important to note that the advice provided below is general advice, and should be undertaken after being consulted, and having a thorough assessment, as every case and every individual is different.
Your physiotherapist should work with you to determine the cause of your pain, although sometimes it may seem that nothing in particular has caused your pain, and it has been gradually building over time. This is very normal and very common. It does not mean that your back is ‘stuffed’.
Your spine is made up of muscles, ligaments, connective tissue, bone, and other structures, just like every other joint in your body. Therefore, when appropriate, and under the guidance of your physiotherapist, they will respond extremely well to movement! All of these structures can grow, and become more robust with mobility and strengthening exercises, to ensure that nerve is no longer compressed, and is stronger than ever before!
So there you have it. A quick rundown of a potential reason why your back pain is causing pain down your leg, and what you can do to begin your road to recovery. More than 50% of people will experience back pain in their life, and it is important to understand that it is normal and can be helped. If you are one of these people, get down to your physiotherapist and start your journey to a better you, today!