Category: Education

What is Sciatica?

sciaticnerve Sciatica is a term used to describe pain in the low back, buttock, and along the back of the leg(s) as a result of irritation of the sciatic nerve. This irritation can cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the tissues that connect to this nerve. Some people have the sensation of the affected leg feeling ‘heavy’. It’s important to know that the location of pain can be different than the actual source of the pain. Pain can be worsened by certain movements and improved by others. That is why it’s important to speak to your Physiotherapist about what to do and what to avoid.

Why does it happen?

Sciatica is very common, and estimated to affect between 10-40% of people within their lifetime. Sciatica is sometimes caused by physical changes in the lower back, which increase pressure on the structures that make up the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve can also be pinched on it’s way into your leg as it passes through the muscles that support your hip. Common causes of these issues include poor movement mechanics, injuries, muscle imbalances, and age related changs. The aim of treatment will be to identify the causes of your sciatic pain, and then work to reduce the pressure on your sciatic nerve to allow it to recover.

The role of Physiotherapy

It is important to remember that pain and injuries often have many contributing factors. Your Physiotherapist will perform a thorough assessment and work with you to find the most effective treatment strategy. Some approaches for treating sciatica are:

  • The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapybanner-mckenzie
  • Education for self-management, such as activity modification, postural and body mechanics education
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Manual therapies such as soft tissue and joint mobilisation
  • Modalities such as ultrasound, and acupuncture

Often a combination of techniques will be performed to treat the underlying cause(s) and to reduce your pain. Imaging may be considered if conservative treatment does not improve your condition, and if it will help with overall management. Actively following through with your exercise plan will improve your overall recovery.


Davis D, Maini K, Vasudevan A. Sciatica. [Updated 2021 Feb 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from:

Jensen, R. K., Kongsted, A., Kjaer, P., & Koes, B. (2019). Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ, l6273.