Sciatica is one of the most common afflictions in the United States, with as many as 40% of the population experiencing it at some point in their life (Harvard Medical School). The hallmark symptom of Sciatica is pain “shooting” down the back of the leg, even down to the toes. Pain can be felt at the lower back, and depending on what the source of the cause is, can be felt more on one side versus the other. Symptoms are typically worse while seated.
If you have this kind of pain on a consistent basis, there is a good chance you have Sciatica. But if you only remember one thing from this post, it’s that Sciatica has different causes and these causes require different treatments. If you think you have Sciatica (or are experiencing any type of chronic back pain), getting an evaluation from a chiropractor is critical. While there are some at-home techniques that provide temporary relief from sciatic nerve pain, the only way to achieve long term correction is to have a licensed professional correctly diagnose and treat the underlying causes. Chiropractors are doctors that are highly qualified to treat Sciatica.
Read below to learn important information about Sciatica and whether a chiropractic evaluation is right for you.
The Definition of Sciatica
The term “Sciatica” is used to describe the symptom of persistent pain felt down the back of one’s leg. This means that Sciatica is not the underlying issue. There are different reasons the Sciatic nerve may be compromised, causing you pain.
The sciatic nerve is comprised of 5 smaller nerves originating from your lower back, combined into one large nerve about the size of your thumb. This nerve extends down the back of your leg to your knee, where it splits again into smaller branches extending to different parts of the leg and foot. Sciatica occurs when one or more causes lead to the nerve being pinched or irritated.
Veritas Health defines Sciatica as: “…Pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve and is typically felt in the buttocks, down the back of the leg, and possibly to the foot. Sciatica is typically caused by common conditions including a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease and lumbar spinal stenosis. Sciatica is a descriptive term rather than a diagnosis.” We add to this definition that an irritated sciatic nerve can also be a cause of Sciatica.
What are the symptoms of Sciatica?
If you experience one or more of the following on a regular basis, you may have Sciatica:
- Pain felt down the back of the leg, which can start in the lower back and/or buttocks and go all the way down to the toes
- Pain that is only felt in certain areas of the leg
- Central/ lower back pain or pain that is felt on 80-90% to one side
- Antalgic leaning (leaning or hunching over to a certain side to avoid the pain or avoid triggering pain down the leg)
- Pain in the lower back and/or leg that is usually worse with sitting
- Pain worsens with coughing or sneezing
- Numbness, tingling, or sharp shooting pain felt down one leg
What are the causes of Sciatica?
Sciatica is generally caused by the impingement or pinching of one or more of the 5 Sciatic nerve roots in lower back. This impingement can be caused by any of the following:
- A disc problem (tears that cause bulging)
- Spinal subluxation (one or more vertebra is out of place and irritating a nerve)
- Arthritis (inflammation of a joint and calcium buildup)
- Bone tumors (rare)
- Metastatic cancer (rare)
Human activities are usually what cause the disc injuries and/or spinal misalignment that lead to Sciatica. The following are common:
- Improper lifting
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Slips or falls
- Keeping a large wallet in your back pocket while sitting
- Carrying heavy bags on shoulders
- Car accidents
- Sports injuries
- Bad posture
How is Sciatica Treated?
Disc injuries and spinal misalignment can both lead to sciatic nerve pain, but they are two totally different problems that require different treatments. Once a chiropractor diagnosis the underlying cause, the proper treatment can be applied. In most cases, chiropractic care can provide long-term correction of the problem. In some severe cases, surgery may be required.
When the cause of Sciatica is determined to be misalignment of one or more spinal vertebra, a chiropractor can provide chiropractic spinal manipulation, or an “adjustment”, to remove any irritation to the nerve. Spinal manipulation occurs when the use of gentle force is applied (either manually or mechanically) to restore structural integrity and alignment of the spine. When treatment is sustained over time, these manipulations may provide long-term correction of Sciatica. Many individuals prefer chiropractic care because it is the most conservative, effective, and non-invasive type of treatment, and it does not require the use of medications. This does not mean that your specific case doesn’t require surgery. The only way to know for sure is to get an evaluation, preferably from a chiropractor.
When it comes to self-treatment, there are some stretches you can do at-home to relieve sciatic nerve pain, but generally speaking, these only provide temporary relief from symptoms. Depending on the cause of your sciatica, some stretches may be dangerous to perform, so it is important to get an evaluation from a chiropractor to determine the best treatment plan for you.
The Importance of Getting an Evaluation
There are 3 main reasons that you should get an evaluation from a chiropractor if you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain. These are:
- There are different causes of sciatica that may require different treatment methods. A chiropractor can perform a full examination that determines the source of the problem. This evaluation is used to determine an appropriate treatment plan.
- Chiropractic care can help you avoid surgery and the use of medications. If your evaluation reveals that your Sciatica can be corrected with chiropractic adjustments alone, you will have avoided costly surgeries, treatments, and/or medications. If the evaluating chiropractor determines that he or she cannot treat your Sciatica, they can refer you to the appropriate physician.
- For the most part, Sciatica cannot be treated or cured at-home. Some stretches and exercises may provide temporary relief, but a comprehensive chiropractic evaluation is the only way to reveal the true source of your pain so that you can benefit from the most effective treatment.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and want to avoid surgeries or medications, schedule an evaluation with a chiropractor today. When looking for a chiropractor, be sure to choose someone who will perform a comprehensive examination. For example, at ProHealth Chiropractic and Wellness Center, our comprehensive medical evaluation consists of a full history and consultation, examining ranges of motion, postural exam, orthopedic and neurological tests, a computerized non-invasive surface EMG, and x-rays of the problem areas.
Already scheduled your evaluation? Watch for our next blog to learn some at-home pain-relief techniques while you wait for your next appointment.