What Is The Difference Between Sciatica And Sciatic Nerve Pain?

Many people get diagnosed with sciatic pain but do they know what sciatic pain really is? The words “sciatic pain” and “sciatica” get passed on to many of our patients by health professionals but what do these words mean? 


Let’s break it down

The sciatic nerve is the largest spinal nerve in the body. It runs from your lower spine to your toes. This nerve is important, as it helps our lower limb muscles receive signals from the spine, resulting in motor (movement) and sensory (sensation) control of our lower limbs.

Sciatica and sciatic pain/irritation are completely different, however they get mixed up all the time.


What is sciatica?

Sciatica is defined in the medical world as a “radiculopathy”(1,2). This means there is a compression of the nerve root at the spinal cord (1,2). Sciatica effects around 40% of lower back patients, with with up to 40% of adults annually (2). The most common types of nerve root compression we see are herniated discs and disc bulges on scans (2). Common signs/symptoms include: radiating pain down the affected limb or limbs, pins and needles, burning sensation, electric sensation or numbness (1,2).


What is sciatic nerve pain?

Sciatic nerve pain is an umbrella term used for pain that is associated with lower back and/or lower limb pain (3). The two most common being piriformis muscle syndrome and sacroiliac joint pain. These are often mistaken for sciatica because the symptoms can feel similar however, they do not last as long and are usually not associated with a burning sensation. Piriformis pain is the most common with around 6% of people diagnosed with lower back pain having piriformis syndrome (3). The reason that piriformis pain is often mistaken as sciatica is because in 15-30% of people the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis muscle (3). The nerve can then become compressed as it exits the greater sciatic notch in the glutes causing pain down the leg that can even reach the knee (2,3).



“The reason that piriformis pain is often mistaken as sciatica is because in 15-30% of people the sciatic nerve actually passes through the piriformis muscle.”



If you experience any of the above, the treatment that is highly suggested is a combination of physiotherapy and medical (doctor) treatment. The physiotherapist will work with your doctor to help in your recovery. If you have been experiencing ongoing pain in your back that travels down your leg(s), it may be time to visit a physiotherapist. Book in for an appointment HERE


By Physiotherapist, Paulina Backiel






1.Saleem M, Iftikhar S, Javaid R, Rana T, Rana M, Arfat Y. Sciatica: Medical treatment or Physiotherapy?. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2019 Aug 31;13(14):203-12.
2.Anikwe EE, Tella BA, Aiyegbusi AI, Chukwu SC. Influence of Nerve Flossing Technique on acute sciatica and hip range of motion. International Journal of Medicine and Biomedical Research. 2015;4(2):91-9.
3.Gondal MJ, Iqbal MA, Nasir RH, Tabasssum R, Rasul A. Study of treatment outcome of piriformis syndrome with and without physiotherapy treatment. Annals of King Edward Medical University. 2015;21(2):78.


How To Bulletproof Your Shoulders

Have you ever wondered how many of us have experienced shoulder pain? The answer is up to 70%! The pain is usually caused by previous injuries, trauma, or overuse. Any cause could be sports, as certain sports can increase your risk of getting shoulder pain/injuries. Examples of these sports would be swimming, baseball, gymnastics, tennis – any sport that has lots of repetitive movements or overhead movements. In this blog, I am going to outline some of the best exercises to help you bulletproof your shoulders so that you stay injury and pain-free. 

Strengthen your shoulders

The best way to prevent yourself from getting shoulder pain would be to properly strengthen your shoulder stability muscles and work it into your exercise routine. Here are top 3 exercises you can use to bulletproof your shoulders! 


Man with doing handstand on bars with strong shoulders1. Resisted external rotation 

How to: 

  • This can be done in side lying with a dumbbell or standing with a resistance band/cable.
  • If done in right side lying, lay on your side keeping your shoulder pointed towards the ceiling.
  • Use a weight between 1-3kg (i do not recommend anything heavier).
  • Place a towel under your right elbow and lightly press down.
  • Start with your hand in front of your belly and lift the weight towards the ceiling.
  • It should be a slow and controlled movement.
  • Perform 15-20 repetitions to increase muscular endurance. 


2. Scapula push-ups 

How to: 

  • Start in a high plank with hands directly under shoulders. 
  • Keep core and glutes tight and keep spinal neutral, keeping elbow straight throughout. 
  • Picture a coin between your shoulder blades and pinch while lowering your chest towards the ground. 
  • Push your hands apart and push shoulder blades apart and chest away from ground. 
  • It should be a small controlled movement. 
  • Perform 15-20 repetitions to increase muscular endurance. 


3. Low rows 

  • Start standing in front of a resistance band or cable machine
  • Arms outstretched but not locked, keep spinal neutral and core tight with knees unlocked. 
  • Start by picturing a coin between the base of your shoulder blades, squeeze your shoulder blades and pull the band towards your naval 
  • This should be a slow and controlled movements 
  • Perform 15-20 repetitions to increase muscular endurance. 

If you are having ongoing shoulder pain, it may be time to see a physiotherapist. Book in HERE

What Exactly is Tennis Elbow?


Tennis elbow is an injury that involves the common extensor tendon situated at the lateral (outside) part of your elbow. This common tendon extends into the muscles that extend the wrist (extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) and longus, extensor digitorum, extensor digiti minimi, and extensor carpi ulnaris). Throughout our day we use and abuse this tendon and associated muscles when we type, use a mouse, lift objects with our hands, garden and more. We commonly use our wrists in sports such as golf, tennis, weight lifting and other racquet sports. 

This injury is an overuse injury, wherein the tendon is not strong enough to handle the load and gets overloaded, irritating the tendon and ultimately causing pain (1). The tendon that is involved mostly 90% of the time is the extensor carpi radialis (1).

diagram of the elbow and forearm showing the area where tennis elbow pain occurs
Tennis elbow injury medical vector illustration on white background eps 10


We used to believe it was tendonitis, however, studies now show it is not an inflammatory disease but an overloading injury (1). This is why if we rest the tendon and then go back to doing daily activities the pain comes back. 

Statistics show about 40% of people will experience tennis elbow in their lifetime, and prevalence of 15% in people who have jobs that require highly repetitive tasks using their hands (2). In half of tennis players with an elbow injury, 75-80% is tennis elbow (2).


Are you experiencing tennis elbow? Try this exercise

Isometric wrist extension

-Support forearm of injured elbow on a table with wrist sitting off the edge.

-Place other hand on knuckles

-Extend wrist of injured arm into palm of good hand and hold. You should see your wrist extensors working. This exercise should not be painful.

-Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions of 10s holds

Woman demonstrates an isometric wrist extension to treat tennis elbow


If you are suffering from elbow pain or tennis elbow that has been around for a while feel free to reach out to one of our physiotherapists. They will be more than happy to get you on your way towards recovery.

By Physiotherapist, Paulina Backiel




1.Bhabra G, Wang A, Ebert JR, Edwards P, Zheng M, Zheng MH. Lateral elbow tendinopathy: development of a pathophysiology-based treatment algorithm. Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine. 2016 Nov 1;4(11):2325967116670635.

2.Bisset LM, Vicenzino B. Physiotherapy management of lateral epicondylalgia. Journal of physiotherapy. 2015 Oct 1;61(4):174-81.

3.(photo) https://www.therapy-centre.co.uk/images/Tennis_elbow.jpg