The term sciatica is often used incorrectly to mean pain very low in the back, but correctly used it indicates pain at any point along the sciatic nerve, caused by pressure on, or irritation of that nerve.

The sciatic nerve originates in the pelvis, formed from branches of several spinal nerves, and travels below the sacroiliac joint to the buttocks, behind the hip joint, down the thigh, dividing at the knee into two branches, which continue down the calf to the foot. Pain may arise from pressure caused by an intervertebral disc, from badly designed chairs or from poor sitting posture. An overstuffed wallet kept in a back trouser pocket can be the origin of the pain - and no, that is not intended as a joke: such cases have been actually been reported! Some illnesses which give rise to irritation of the nerves, diabetes for example, can give rise to a form of sciatica, and so can alcoholism.

It is important to realise that the pain of sciatica is a symptom, and treating the pain alone is no treatment. The cause must be found and treated. This will often involve examination and treatment from an osteopath where pressure is involved, and obviously chairs and posture need to be looked at. While the pain is bad, massage is not advisable, but cold compresses over the painful area with Camomile or Lavender will reduce the irritation and lessen the pain. Gentle massage with either of these oils at times when there is less or no pain can be very beneficial, and baths can help too - they should not be too hot.

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