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Your last nerve- The difference between sciatica and back pain

Are you on your last nerve?

So you have pain in your lower back and butt. Maybe it’s radiating into your thigh, your calf, or even all the way into your foot. Is it sciatica? Or is it just something in your back that is radiating into your leg? Should you wait it out or go see someone?

Let’s start with sciatica.

Sciatica refers to pain, with occasional numbness and tingling, in the back that radiates into the butt, thigh, calf and often the foot due to pinching of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the human body. Traveling from you lower back to the tip of your toes, it starts out in your butt as thick as your thumb!

Many things can pinch this nerve, including a worn-out disc. You may have heard that you have a herniated disc, bulging disc, degenerative disc disease or an eviscerated disc. These all refer to a disc that has deteriorated or been damaged. These, along with bone spurs from arthritic changes in the joint, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the canal that the nerve uses to exit the spine) or even just a spasm in a muscle that the sciatic nerve travels through can all cause sciatica.

Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can be caused by all of the above as well, but generally limits its pain referral pattern to the lower back, buttock and back of the thigh. Rarely does pain from lower back structures radiate into the calf or foot. Lower back pain can also spread to both sides of the back or butt, where sciatica is usually one sided.

Both lower back pain and sciatica will usually go away with time, but may take days to even months. Chronic, long-term pain can occur if the causes are unaddressed.

A Possible At-Home Solution

One way you can help speed recovery and potentially lessen the pain is to Press RESET.

What is Pressing RESET you ask?

Pressing RESET is simply performing a movement that improves or adds to, the information going to your brain. When the nervous system receives information that it is looking for, information that it wants, it feels safe, and in turn, it allows the body to move better and feel better.

It may sound odd, but the breathing muscle, the diaphragm, is a spinal stabilizer. When we breathe properly and fill our lungs up from the bottom to the top, we are also stabilizing the spine. The nervous system knows when the spine is stable. If the spine is not stable, due to how we breathe, the nervous system may take countermeasures to stabilize the spine by recruiting prime movers through spasm to hold the spine. This can be quite painful.

Also, if we are not properly breathing with the diaphragm, this can create dysfunction with the other spinal stabilizers, specifically the pelvic floor. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also come with a host of pain symptoms that mimic sciatica or low back pain.

So, if you are experiencing back pain, check your breath and intentionally reset it.

Try this
  • Close your lips, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and breathe in and out through your nose.
  • Allow your belly to move in and out while you breathe.
  • Fill your lungs up from the bottom to the top by trying to pull air down into your pelvis.
  • Try this for three minutes and then move around to see if you are feeling and moving better.


If so, awesome! You may have just found a way to naturally speed your recovery.

Want some help from a professional?

If you find yourself with less patience for pain, a physical therapist, chiropractor or physician can usually help with pain and get you moving in significantly less time.

Physical therapists and chiropractors can use manual techniques (massage, joint mobilization or manipulation, dry needling, etc.), modalities such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound, exercise to lessen pain and spasms and address any swelling to decrease the pinching of the nerves that are causing your pain. Your physician can also give you medications to help with the pain, swelling and spasms. And if you decide to implement the above breathing reset PLUS seek medical care, you may have even better results!

If you are noticing that your leg (especially your foot or toes) is weak (and you are unable to walk on your toes or heels), then you should seek care sooner than later, as continued pinching of the nerve to this degree may result in permanent damage.

But you are not alone! 80% of adults will experience severe lower back pain at some time in their life. As a matter of fact, lower back pain is the number one musculo-skeletal reason for doctor visits and is the number one reason for physical therapy and chiropractic visits.

What is also true is that while you may experience some pain from time to time, this is not something you have to live with for the rest of your life. You are not broken and you don’t need to quit doing the things you love and living your life because of this pain. It can get better!


Many people find themselves in pain and stop moving altogether thinking sitting or laying around all day is the solution.

What we have come to find out is that our bodies are made to move and movement is a way our bodies can heal itself. Sitting on our butts all day or leaning back in a big fancy recliner may feel nice from time to time, but can have some seriously hurtful effects on our bodies as we lose our natural posture and add extra compression to your discs, and stress to your neck and spine.

We came across and article that shares research which shows:

  • Lying down longer than a day or two day isn’t helpful for relieving back pain.
  • People can recover more quickly without any bed rest.
  • The sooner you start moving, even a little bit, or return to activities such as walking, the faster you are likely to improve.

Remember that back pain and sciatica are both painful, but they are different structures that are actually causing you to hurt, and may need different care. If you don’t want to just wait it out, start with your breathing and get back to movement. If you don’t know where to start, see your physical therapist, chiropractor or physician and get back to living!

Original Strength Institute has a physical therapist on-site, and we offer a virtual Original Strength Screen and Assessment for those looking to work with a member of our team from a distance. Please click here if you’d like to discuss options with someone.

Local to our home-base in Fuquay-Varina, NC? Visit us Wednesday, Dec 9th for our FREE Injury Clinic from 4-5pm.

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