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What's the problem?

Back or buttock pain caused by sciatica.

What's the cause?

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is either pinched by a prolapsed disc in the lumbar spine or caught by muscle spasms in the buttock - or both.

In some cases the sciatic nerve travels through the piriformis, a muscle that lies deep in your buttock - even though the pain appears to come from your lower back. Tension in this muscle can be due to poor posture, overuse or trauma. Falling on your backside can cause it to impinge on the sciatic nerve and lead to pain down the leg, into the hips and even lower back.

What's the treatment? Osteopathy can help, or a deep sports massage (www.thesma.org, www.scotmass.co.uk) applied to the piriformis can rapidly relieve tension in this area. This kind of massage can be painful, but it shouldn't be unbearable. Always speak up during your treatment if it hurts too much.

Home tips

Sit on an exercise ball at home instead of the sofa. It encourages underused muscles to pull their weight. The best ones I've come across are burst-resistant ABS Power balls (www.gaiamdirect.co.uk).

Sleeping with a pillow between your knees can relieve pressure.

For a simple stretch, lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Keeping your head back, bring the ankle of one foot on to the other thigh. Now lift the thigh towards your head. You should feel a stretch deep in your buttocks.

• Louisa Johnston is the founder of Tonic Health (www.tonichealthscotland.com, 0131 554 6161). E-mail your queries to feelbetter@scotlandonsunday.com