A patient's simple understanding of sciatica

I have been told I have sciatica, but what does this mean? What is sciatica? What is radicular pain and radiculopathy? What is neuropathy? How do these terms fit together? What happened in my body to cause my condition? How might back surgery help?


Ten years ago, I experienced a manual handling accident which resulted in me being diagnosed with ‘disabling right sided sciatica’. My L5/S1 lumbar disc herniated and compressed my S1 nerve root. Since that time, I have had many clinicians involved in my care, many of whom have provided me with an explanation of my condition. I have also read books about my condition and articles on the Internet. Overall, I have received a great deal of information about my condition, but some of it has been conflicting, some of it beyond my scientific/medical knowledge, some of it too simplistic, and some of it just plain inaccurate.


I have spent a great deal of time working out the answers to my questions, and here I put forward my simple understanding of sciatica. 


It is important to read this section about the specifics of sciatica in combination with the sections entitled Understand Pain and Understand YOUR Pain which can be found in the 24 strands of Living Well with Pain section. 

What is sciatica?

Written by:

Annina Schmid – annina.schmid@neuro-research.ch @anninabschmid

Tina Price, person living with sciatica – livingwellpain.net @livingwellpain

Joel Fundaun – @JFundaun

Laura Bassi – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUah… @fisiocamera


Illustrated and edited by: Laura Bassi

Narrated by: Joel Fundaun

10 Sciatica Facts

10 sciatica facts written by Adam Dobson,

with special contributors

Ronan Walsh – @rwalshphysio

Tom Jesson – @thomas_jesson

Annina Schmid – @AnninaBSchmid

Rob Goldsmih – @PainCurious

Kate Purcell – @k8purcellphysio

Tina Price – @LivingWellPain


Learn more

When should you seek urgent help for your sciatic / back pain

Cauda Equina Syndrome Warning Signs

Anyone with symptoms of sciatica should be aware of Cauda Equina Syndrome.  Although Cauda Equina Syndrome is rare it can be very serious and so needs immediate attention.  The cards below provide some warning signs of Cauda Equina Syndrome.  If you develop any combination of these symptoms around the same time your sciatica / back pain starts then seek medical advice quickly. 

Physiotherapist Tom Jesson

Tom Jesson is a physiotherapist who is taking a special interest in sciatica.

He has recently started his own website and publishes a newsletter about once a week. Some of his work is patient facing and relatively easy to read, but some of it is aimed mainly at clinicians. However if you are really interested to understand more about sciatica then I would recommend giving his work a read. Tom has also started a new ‘Sciatica’ podcast, which is really interesting to listen to.

You can sign up for Tom’s sciatica newsletter from his website.

Tom Jesson talks sciatica with Tina

Physiotherapist Tom Jesson has a special interest in sciatica, whilst I have over 12 years experience of living with sciatica! This PhysioMatters podcast records our chat together about all things sciatica.
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