Sciatic pain is horrible, as anyone who has experienced it will attest to! Burning pain down the back of the leg, pins and needles, and in extreme cases loss of muscular power in certain muscle groups. So, what is sciatic irritation? Why is it so painful? And how can Osteopaths help people with sciatica?


Most sciatica is caused by irritation (or inflammation) at the root of the nerve, where it exits the spinal column. In between our vertebrae are little holes, where individual nerve roots leave the spinal cord. These nerve roots then band together to form the big nerve highways to different parts of the body. Several of the nerve roots from the lowest part of your spine come together in this way to form the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve then travels down the back of the leg, supplying skin and muscle with the ability to sense and move.


If an injury occurs to the lowest part of the spine and causes tissues to swell up and be inflamed, it can squash these little nerve roots and interfere with the way they work. This is the mechanism that causes most sciatica.


We’re learning all the time about pain science, and we now know that 100% of pain happens in the brain, 100% of the time, no exceptions.

We already know that the sciatic nerve will end up in the back of the leg, so it makes sense that interference with this nerve will result in the brain picking up negative stimulus (pain and dysfunction!) regarding the places that nerve goes.


The good news is, there doesn’t have to be a big traumatic tissue injury to produce sciatic pain. The spine is a very intricate and compact area of the body: it does not tolerate inflammation and swelling well. Very small injuries can produce very large amounts of pain.


If injuries don’t heal well in the first instance, the brain can remember the pain of sciatica, and trigger it again as a warning against further tissue injury, long after initial pain has passed. This is why it’s so important to seek proper advice for rehabilitation after sciatica, to ensure proper function returns.