Sciatica is a condition where the sciatic nerve is irritated, causing pain down the back of the leg. The pain can start at the base of the spinal cord (or buttocks) and radiate to the toes. It is usually experienced on only one side of the body and worse while sitting.
Persistent sciatica pain caused by the Sciatic nerve can be debilitating and prevent people from participating in the hobbies, exercise, and sports they love.
Sciatic pain 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 Definition of Sciatica
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 is the longest in the body and extends down the back of your leg to your knee, where it splits again into smaller nerve branches extending to different parts of the leg and foot. Sciatica usually occurs due to the nerve roots being pinched, often from a herniated disc.
Spine 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.”
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
If you experience Sciatica, symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Pain felt down the back of the leg, which can start in the lower lumbar area 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 legs)
- Pain in the lower back and/or leg that is usually worse with sitting
- Pain may worsen with coughing or sneezing
- Numbness, tingling, or sharp shooting pain felt down one leg
What are the Causes of Sciatica?
Sciatica pain is generally caused by the impingement or pinching of one or more of the 5 Sciatic nerve roots in the lower back. Any of the following can cause this impingement:
- A disc problem (tears that cause bulging)
- Spinal subluxation (one or more vertebra is out of place and irritating a nerve)
- Herniated disk
- Spinal stenosis
- Arthritis (inflammation of a joint and calcium buildup)
- Bone spurs
- Metastatic cancer (rare)
Normal physical activities and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to misalignment of the spine throughout our lives. We call this spinal subluxation, and it occurs when one or more vertebra shifts out of place.
In-between each vertebra, we have disks that act as shock absorbers. When the vertebra becomes misaligned, the discs can bulge and put pressure on nearby nerves. The following are risk factors for Sciatica:
- Improper lifting
- Sitting for long periods
- Slips or falls
- Keeping a large wallet in your back pocket while sitting
- Carrying heavy bags on shoulders
- Car accidents
- Sports injuries
- Bad posture
- A sedentary lifestyle
How is Sciatica Treated?
Once a Doctor of Chiropractic diagnoses the underlying cause, the proper chiropractic treatment can be implemented. In most cases, chiropractic care and physical therapy can provide long-term pain relief. In some severe cases, muscle relaxants, steroid injections, or surgery may be required.
When Spinal Subluxation is determined to be the cause of Sciatica, a chiropractor can provide spinal manipulation or an “adjustment” to remove any irritation to the nerve roots. This consists of putting the vertebra back into its proper position so that the nerves become free of irritation and can function normally.
Spinal manipulation occurs when gentle force is applied (either manually or mechanically) to restore structural integrity and alignment of the spinal cord. When treatment is sustained over time, these manipulations may provide long-term pain relief of Sciatica.
Many individuals prefer chiropractic care because it is the most conservative, effective, and non-invasive type of treatment. It does not require the use of medications such as muscle relaxants and steroid injections. 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 exercises you can do at home to relieve sciatic nerve pain, but these only provide temporary relief from symptoms. Also, depending on the cause of your Sciatica, some stretches may be dangerous to perform, so it is important to get an evaluation to determine the best treatment plan for you.
The Importance of Getting an Evaluation
There are three main reasons 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 a Chiropractor can correct your Sciatica pain with chiropractic adjustments alone, you will avoid costly surgery, treatments, and medications. If the evaluating chiropractor determines that he 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 of back pain. Still, 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 ProHealth chiropractor today.
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.
Chiropractic care is an alternative treatment to invasive surgeries and medications, and in many cases, it can provide permanent relief, depending on the cause of your Sciatica.
If you think you have Sciatica (or are experiencing any chronic back pain), getting an evaluation from a chiropractor is critical. While some at-home techniques 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.
What Happens During Chiropractic Treatment for Sciatica?
Chiropractic care consists of spinal manipulation or adjustments designed to release pressure on the nerve and reduce irritation. There are many different techniques that chiropractors use to manipulate the spine, all to correct spinal subluxation and improve the patient’s overall wellness. When the nerves are free to function normally, this contributes to overall improved health, wellness, and vitality.
Do Chiropractic Adjustments Hurt?
Sometimes people are reluctant to try chiropractic treatment due to the loud popping sound experienced during an adjustment. You’ve probably heard it at some point while cracking your knuckles. It can be loud and scary in some cases, but it’s nothing to worry about. Gas bubbles are released in the joints and cause this sound. Nothing is breaking.
It’s important to understand that chiropractic adjustments are not a one-and-done treatment. Your spine can’t be corrected overnight. Spinal misalignment results from years of improper posture, which can be cemented into place when our muscles and ligaments readjust to hold the spine in its new position. Chiropractic treatment is cumulative, and each appointment will build on the last. Even if you feel relief, it’s important to carry out the full treatment plan recommended by your chiropractor so that pain may be relieved.
It’s Time for Your Evaluation!
When chiropractic treatment is sustained over time, this can permanently correct Sciatica. There are many symptoms of Sciatica, and a chiropractic evaluation can help reveal them so that the proper treatment can be administered.
If the chiropractor determines that a different treatment is the best option, they will refer you to the appropriate doctor. However, you can avoid costly surgery and unnecessary medication if you visit a chiropractor first to evaluate your symptoms.