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The human spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, between which are protective pads of tissue called intervertebral discs. The spinal column contains the spinal cord which transmits information around the body via the nervous system. Originating in the lower back is the sciatic nerve, the longest and thickest of all the nerves. The sciatic nerve runs down the lower spine through the buttocks and lower legs.
Sciatica is a condition causing pain in the lower back and legs due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. The most common cause is a slipped disc, where the internal fluid of an intervertebral disc bulges out of the disc pushing against the nerve. The sciatica pain can be made worse with sudden actions such as coughing and sneezing, with sitting or standing for extended periods of time or by bending backwards. Numbness, tingling and muscle weakness are other symptoms associated with sciatica.
In the short term sciatica can be treated using over the counter medicine such as ibuprofen, compression packs (hot and cold) and you should aim to continue being as active as possible. With severe symptoms or those that last over six weeks you should visit your GP. You may be advised to visit a physiotherapist or to try and relive long term pain, where medicine hasn’t worked, the GP may recommend an injection of anti-inflammatory medication to the affected area.