Sciatica and Disc problems

Disc problems refer to issues with the discs in the spine.  The discs sit between the vertebrae (bones of the spine) to provide shock absorption and allow movement.  Imagine a balloon between two boards.  The balloon moulds (changes shape) as the boards move on either side.  This is how the disc functions.  The discs have a tough outer layer and soft jelly like inner area.

Problems with the discs vary, the disc can bulge (imagine you have stretched one part of your balloon and the pressure causes it to push out further in that area) or rupture/herniate, this is where the outer fibres of the disc tear and the inner jelly area can ooze out.  Discs can be injured by long term strain, eg poor posture which may weaken the disc, or by movements or activities that put increased pressure on the disc, such as heavy lifting, coughing or sneezing.

Problems with your discs can cause various symptoms depending on their location such as: back pain, neck pain, pain radiating into the arms or legs, muscle weakness, numbness or tingling.  It is interesting to note that some disc problems do not cause any symptoms at all.

Sciatica refers to symptoms caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.  The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It is formed from nerves exiting the spine in the low back, travels deep through the buttock and down the leg.  The nerve may be irritated by a damaged disc, bony growths on the spine, tight muscles, direct trauma or pregnancy.  Symptoms vary from mild to incapacitating and may include pain, numbness, pins and needles and muscle weakness.

Your Osteopath will take a full history, conduct orthopaedic and neurological testing with the aim of identifying the cause of your symptoms.  Treatment of disc related issues (including those causing sciatica) work to take the strain off the damaged disc.  This may be by releasing muscle tension, ensuring nearby joints are functioning freely, improving circulation and drainage to help aid healing.  If the examination indicates other tissues to be contributing to the sciatica, the osteopath will work to address these.

Movement is important during the recovery period, keeping still for too long can slow your recovery.  Your Osteopath may recommend exercises and stretches to aid your recovery, getting you back to normal sooner.

Once you have recovered from the acute phase, Exercise Programming and Massage may assist in preventing a recurrence.

Please see our research page for information on supporting studies.