Myths About Sciatica
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 04:13 PM

The fact is most patients don't know what sciatica really is. Even more interesting, many in the health care field misuse the term daily.

Our longest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve travels from the lower back and buttocks into the legs. It is very common for people to have problems with the sciatic nerve, including sciatica. However, many people are unaware and misinformed as to what sciatica actually is.

Let's set the record straight on some common myths about sciatica:

MYTH:  Sciatica is a medical condition.  This is perhaps one of the most widespread myths about sciatica. When told they have sciatica, many people believe that is their diagnosis. Sciatica itself is not actually a condition or disease, but rather a name for a set of symptoms caused by a spinal condition. These symptoms, including pain, weakness, or numbness in the buttocks or leg and a burning or tingling sensation down the leg, are collectively known as sciatica. However, sciatica does not indicate the root cause of the symptoms.

MYTH:  Sciatica is only caused by certain conditions.  Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is irritated, and several spinal conditions can result in this. Herniated discs, lumbar degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, piriformis syndrome, or spinal tumors can all result in sciatica.  Even plain old muscle spasm (piriformis syndrome) may result in sciatica.

MYTH:   If you have leg pain without back pain, it can't be sciatica.  The majority of patients with sciatica will experience some back pain alongside the leg pain, but some patients may not experience back pain. Sciatica can sometimes be mistaken for a leg injury. 

MYTH:  If you have sciatica, you should rest and avoid physical activity.  While it is fine to rest for a day or two if you are experiencing significant pain, you should try to be as active as possible. Exercise can actually help to relieve the symptoms of sciatica. Strong core and back muscles help to support the spine and improve posture. Try to incorporate stretching into your routine. Tight muscles can put stress on the back, irritating sciatica. Yoga can be especially beneficial for those with certain spinal conditions; even athletes are beginning to practice yoga to find relief from back pain.

MYTH:  Surgery is the only way to find relief from sciatica.  Most doctors will try to treat sciatica with nonsurgical methods first.  If nonsurgical treatment fails to relieve pain, your doctor may then recommend a surgical evaluation.