Understanding Sciatica: Illness beliefs and exercise treatment beliefs in a lumbar radicular pain population

Principal / Lead investigator
  • Robert Goldsmith (Physiotherapist Cardiff & Vale UHB)
Academic supervisors
  • Nefyn Williams (PRIME, Bangor University)
  • Fiona Wood (PRIME, Cardiff University)
Type of study

Qualitative (Semi-structured Interviews)


People who are in a lot of pain want a ‘cure’ and want it quickly. When healthcare clinicians suggest exercise as a treatment, patients are often not convinced or lack the confidence to try. It is not immediately obvious how exercise can help with pain. 

The purpose of this study is to understand how people with sciatica make sense of what is happening to them and what they think of the different treatments for sciatica. We are trying to understand the difficulties that people with sciatica may experience when trying to perform different types of physical exercise. 

Clear explanations are needed to help people understand what treatment is being suggested, and why it might help. Those explanations depend on understanding what people with sciatica believe is wrong with them, and how this affects their preferences of one type of treatment over another. Understanding this from a patients’ perspective may result in better explanations. This is likely to help improve the effectiveness of exercise treatments for patients.

Who is the study sponsor?

Bangor University

Please describe how the public / patients were involved in the development of the study design, and how they will be involved in the funded study? 

We have met with two patient representatives who have had a direct input to the study design from an early stage. We discussed the problem facing patients with radicular pain in deciding what treatment options they might like to try. We also discussed the problem facing clinicians when trying to help patients with radicular pain. Following this we reviewed the study aims and objectives, study design, recruitment and interview structure. We reviewed all documentation that will be given to the participants. Because of these discussions we have amended the participant information sheet, consent form and interview schedule. Both representatives have kindly agreed to meet with us again, once we have completed the analysis, to help plan how we might make best use the result of the study. 

How could this research potentially benefit patients?

We plan to use the results of the study to develop a clearer explanation of sciatica, and how exercise can help. We expect this to improve the confidence of those people with sciatica to engage with exercise treatments. We expect this to improve how well exercise treatments work. This may also reduce costs of unnecessary or invasive treatments.

Does the study involve commercial partnership activity?

UKCRN portfolio number (if relevant)


RCBC First in to Research Fellowship         

Total grant value

£ 10,000

Amount accruing to Wales

£ 10,000

Start date


End date


Further information (e.g. related web link)

Press release (Bangor University), 16 June 2017

Robert was successful under the “First into Research” stream aimed at new comers to research. Robert is keen to try and get a better understanding of how patients are make sense of their condition and is focusing on Sciatica. Robert comments that “I am curious about what people with sciatica believe is wrong with them, and how this affects their preferences of one type of treatment over another. If we can understand this from a patients’ perspective we might be able to offer better explanations. This is likely to help improve how effective exercise treatments are for patients across the UK.”

This award will enable Robert to complete a research project whilst continuing to treat patients within his NHS clinical role. Bringing research into the day-to-day realities of clinical practice is essential if we are to answer questions that are important and meaningful for patients.

Robert is looking forward to starting the project and said “I chose to apply with Bangor University because it has an outstanding record of high quality healthcare research. Dr Nefyn Williams is an experienced researcher in the field of musculoskeletal conditions and I am also very grateful to Dr Fiona Wood from the PRIME Centre for her support.”

Outputs generated (Reports / Publications / Impact) 

To follow