What is sciatica? Understanding the causes of lower back pain

Dr. Mark De Anda specializes in treating the lower back and sciatica. (Courtesy photo)

By Dr. Mark De Anda, owner of Optimum Physio


What is sciatica?  This is a word that is used often, but how many patients really understand what it is?  Well, sciatica refers to the sciatic nerve in the body which is also largest nerve in the body.  It is actually two nerves that split behind the knee and travel from the lower back down the back of the leg and into the foot.  It is pain running down the back of the leg caused by a problem in the back.

Sciatica sufferers may experience pain, numbing or tingling in the leg.  Patients may also experience a burning or weakness in the leg causing the sensation of one leg feeling heavier than the other.  Now that we know what sciatica is, what causes it?

The three common causes of lower back pain and sciatica are herniated disk, stenosis and pelvic problems.  First we look at a herniated disk.  There are many ways to describe a herniated disk such as abutting, protruded, sequester, however, they cause pain the same way, “bending forward.”  Typically, younger people experience this.  They have pain bending over to pick up something.  It could be something very light or heavy that starts their back pain.

The next cause of lower back pain and sciatica is stenosis.  It may also be categorized as degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease.  They all cause pain the same way, by bending backwards.  Typically, older people (usually over the age of 55 years old) suffer from this.  They often complain of pain when standing or walking.  You might notice them shopping at a big food store for example, usually leaning forward on their shopping cart while walking around the store.

Finally, pelvic or SI joint instability may cause sciatica.  There is no typical age category for this cause.  I see it in patients as young as 16 years old to 96 years old.  These people usually complain of pain with sitting or changing positions.  For example, moving from sitting to standing.

How do physical therapists treat this successfully?  There are physical therapists who specialize in treating the lower back and sciatica.  These physical therapists use a hands-on approach to move the pelvis and lower back.  They also incorporate stretching and strengthening exercises to stabilize the pelvis.  Occasionally, a tool called traction is used to help relocate the herniated disc.

It is very important not to ignore sciatica and lower back pain.  Altering it will only give you temporary relief.  If you really want to know what your back pain and sciatica is, schedule an appointment with a doctor of physical therapy, who specializes in back pain and sciatica, like myself.

My name is Mark De Anda, and I’m a doctor of physical therapy located in central San Antonio.  If you call (210) 314-6725 and schedule a free screening, I can conform exactly what the cause of your pain is, and I will also give you a written explanation of exactly what a successful plan looks like.

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  1. Very interesting article! I have backpain and no flexibility since always and my doctor recommended me a safe method explained on itestediloved.com and since I am doing it (about 3 weeks) I am feeling much better and almost no more backpain + already more flexible (big difference!)! A true miracle tx god my doc is not only after meds! Now I don’t feel bad working from home all day long (sitting!)