TOP 5 Myths About Sciatica (DEBUNKED)

5 sciatica myths debunked

I often hear many people talking about how their sciatica flares up every now and then but the majority of people don’t know what is really happening inside their body.

So I decided to write this post, to help you better understand what sciatica is and to debunk the top 5 common myths about this misunderstood symptom.

What is the Sciatic Nerve?

The sciatica nerve is the largest nerve in your body.  It originates from each side of your low back, travels through the pelvis, buttocks, back of the thighs, and goes all the way down to your feet.

sciatic nerve



Myth #1:  My Diagnosis is Sciatica

Truth:  This is probably the most common misconception.  Sciatica is not a medical condition.  Sciatica is a set of symptoms felt when the sciatic nerve is pinched.  The symptoms can include pain in the low back or buttocks accompanied with shooting pain down the leg, numbness, tingling, and weakness.  With that being said, the true diagnosis comes from what is pinching the sciatic nerve.

For example, the most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc in the low back.  If you have a disc herniation that’s causing pain down the leg (sciatica), then the correct diagnosis would be a herniated disc in the lumbar spine.  So, the correct course of treatment should focus on treating the herniated disc so that pressure is removed from the sciatic nerve.  You don’t treat the leg pain, you treat the problem at its source.  Understood?



Myth #2:  Every Exercise Works for Sciatica

Truth:  Compression of the sciatic nerve is not caused by one thing.  Most common causes of sciatica come from disc herniations but sciatica can also be caused by degenerative disc disease in the low back, piriformis syndrome, lumbar spinal stenosis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, spondylolisthesis (slippage of a vertebra), and spinal tumors (least common).

Since there are many causes for sciatica, a correct diagnosis is needed in order to determine what exercises to do and which ones to avoid.  The exercises that help when you have a disc herniation can increase pain if your problem is degenerative disc disease.



Myth #3:  I Don’t Have Back Pain, So It Can’t Be Sciatica

Truth:  Although the sciatic nerve originates in the low back and most people with a pinched sciatic nerve experience low back pain, there are cases when people don’t experience back pain.  

Some people feel the pain starts in the pelvis or buttocks area and then travels down the leg.  This is true with piriformis syndrome (pseudo sciatica) and sacroiliac joint (SI Joint) dysfunction.   

With piriformis syndrome, the piriformis muscle may become inflamed and compress the sciatic nerve that runs right below it.  

With SI Joint dysfunction the pelvis can have instability and move out of alignment, compress the sciatic nerve, causing pain in the buttocks and leg.



Myth #4:  Bed Rest Works For Sciatica

Truth:  With herniated discs being the #1 culprit for sciatica, staying active is actually necessary to help nourish and heal discs.  Discs are an avascular structure that do not receive direct nourishment through blood vessels so they depend on movement to remove waste and heal.  

Lack of activity also weakens the muscles and structures that support the spine.  Tight muscles can put more stress on your back making your condition worse. 

For this reason, the correct exercises and stretches for the cause of your sciatica can have a significant impact on your recovery and decrease your pain way more than staying in bed.



Myth #5:  Surgery Is The Only Way To Get Rid Of Sciatica

Truth:  The majority of sciatica cases will not require surgery.  Unless you have severe weakness, numbness, or bowel and bladder dysfunction, most doctors will have you go through a comprehensive treatment plan which may include therapeutic exercises and epidural injections.  

If non-surgical treatments do not improve the pain, then your doctor may recommend an opinion from a surgeon to see if you’re a candidate.   Since the most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc, one of the most common surgeries done to treat sciatic nerve pain is a microdiscectomy, where the herniated portion of the disc compressing the sciatic nerve is removed.


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