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

Principal / Lead investigator
Academic supervisors
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)

News item, 16 June 2017: https://www.bangor.ac.uk/health-sciences/news/two-prestigious-rcbc-awards-for-bangor-s-institute-for-health-and-medical-research-32484

Outputs generated (Reports / Publications)

Conference presentation: https://sapc.ac.uk/conference/2019/abstract/understanding-sciatica-how-do-people-lumbar-radicular-pain-understand-their

Publication: Goldsmith R, Williams N, Wood F. Understanding Sciatica: Illness beliefs in a lumbar radicular pain population. BJGP Open 2019; 3 (3): bjgpopen19X101654. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgpopen19X101654


This research was published in the British Journal of General Practice and was awarded'Top 10 Research Publications of 2019', announced on 31st January.