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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick Thompson, PT, DPT, OCS, Dip. Osteopractic

Is it actually "Sciatica?" How do you know?

We've all been there, you suddenly have a new shooting pain or tingling going down your leg. And what makes it worse is - you didn't even do anything to hurt yourself! You did not have a fall, you didn't lift anything heavy, and you don't even have a cool story to back up your pain.

But since it's a new pain, you do a quick search on Dr. Google and Social Media to see what this "pain running down my leg" is, and the top results are likely Sciatic Nerve pain, Sciatica, or Sciatic nerve exercises.

Multiple results, same word - so it has to be sciatica, right? Well I highly doubt it. And to understand why, we first need to define what the heck the sciatic nerve actually is.

The Sciatic Nerve is actually a combination of 2 other nerves, the Tibial Nerve and the Common Fibular (Peroneal) Nerve. The Tibial and Common Fibular Nerves originate from L4, L5, S1, S2, S3 Nerve Roots in the lower back/sacral region. These 2 nerves converge (in most people, but not 100% of the time) in the gluteal region (aka the butt, for lack of a better word) to form the Sciatic Nerve. The Sciatic nerve continues until it splits apart above the knee in the thigh to again become the tibial nerve and common fibular nerve.

The above crash course in sciatic nerve anatomy is boring - but vital. This is because many people with "sciatica" also say they have low back pain - or pain extending into the heel or foot. This indicates the actual source of the pain is NOT the Sciatic Nerve, your symptoms may just simply include the sciatic nerve.

So when you go to your doctor with "tingling in the leg", and they just don't have the time to take a deep dive into the symptoms or to perform a thorough differential diagnosis, they may just say you have sciatica and give you medication and a few "exercises" for sciatic nerve pain (while they secretly cross their fingers and hope that it will help).

But alas, this will probably not work because there are a plethora of other diagnoses that mimic sciatica and/or can include pain down the leg. Diagnoses such as Lumbar Radiculopathy, Pelvic Floor Issues, Pudendal Neuralgia, Disc Herniations/Bulges, Double Crush Injury, Piriformis Syndrome, Hip Bursitis, Tibial Nerve dysfunction, Hamstring Strain, and many, many, many more. I’ve even been known to call Sciatica an Umbrella Diagnosis or Trash Can Diagnosis because it is so widely used to describe symptoms down the leg when the true cause is unknown.

Oh, and the "3 best exercises for sciatica" do not take into consideration these other conditions. This is the reason that piriformis stretches help one person and not the next. Because even though your symptoms may sound similar, you likely did not have the same condition.

So if you feel like you've tried all of the exercises that are proven to work for Sciatica, but you still aren't getting relief, do not panic, because at Flow Physical Therapy and Wellness in The Woodlands, TX, we are the experts in differential diagnosis and specialize in taking the time to get to the root cause of your symptoms. This maximizes your outcomes and provides the results that you are looking for.

Click the button below if you think you either have Sciatic Nerve Pain or if you were misdiagnosed with Sciatic Nerve Pain and are ready to get relief!

Dr. Patrick Thompson, PT, DPT, OCS, Cert. DN

Owner of Flow Physical Therapy and Wellness


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