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QI've always had a bad back but recently the pain is almost unbearable at times in the lower part of my back and my left leg. I can only describe it as a severe burning sensation. What could it be? A It sounds to me as if you could be suffering from sciatica - a back problem that affects the sciatic nerve.

It occurs if the sciatic nerve becomes irritated or compressed - this most commonly involves pressure being placed on the nerve by a slipped disc for example - and the pain will follow the path of the nerve, from behind the pelvis down to your feet.

Other symptoms can include tingling sensations and shooting pain that starts in the buttock region and travels down towards the foot.

There are two main types of sciatica - acute and persistent.

The first can last anything up to six weeks. It is important to be properly diagnosed as, while sciatica in itself does not require immediate treatment, your symptoms could be pointing to other conditions that would cause this sort of pain.

There are certain exercises you can try to relieve the pain and some people find lying in specific positions eases pressure and relieves discomfort. Over-the counter painkillers will take the edge off, and likewise hot or cold packs will help to soothe.

It may seem surprising, but physical exercise will be better for you than too much rest, but it probably won't feel like it at the time. A reasonable level of activity will help to heal sciatica discomfort, inactivity is likely to have the opposite effect.

Lack of movement causes the muscles and spinal structures to weaken, which makes them less effective in the support that they provide for the back and compounds the pain.

In most cases, the pain from sciatica will disappear within a few days, weeks at most, but if it is more persistent, you need to think about getting advice on a structured exercise programme or some form of physiotherapy to ease the discomfort. | Dr Joanna Longstaffe is clinical director of the Independent General Practice
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 25, 2013
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