Sciatica may sound like an intimidating term but really the term sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain and possibly tingling, numbness, or weakness that originate in the lower back and travel through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of each leg. Sciatica is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself—it is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Common lower back problems that can cause sciatica symptoms include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, or spinal stenosis. Doctors of Chiropractic (DC) medicine regularly treat sciatica and often have their patients make a full recovery. Hopefully by the end of this blog you will feel more educated about sciatica and if you happen to have the issue yourself you’ll see a chiropractor!
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica is generally caused by sciatic nerve compression. Disorders known to cause sciatic nerve pain include lumbar spine subluxations (misaligned vertebral body/ies), herniated or bulging discs (slipped discs), pregnancy and childbirth, tumors, and non-spinal disorders such as diabetes, constipation, or sitting on one's back pocket wallet. One common cause of sciatica is piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is named after the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is located in the lower part of the spine, connects to the thighbone, and assists in hip rotation. The sciatic nerve runs beneath the piriformis muscle. This muscle is susceptible to injury from a slip and fall, hip arthritis, or a difference in leg length. Such situations can cause cramping and spasm to develop in the piriformis muscle, thereby pinching the sciatic nerve and causing inflammation and pain. Sciatic nerve compression may result in the loss of feeling (sensory loss), paralysis of a single limb or group of muscles (monoplegia), and insomnia.
Usually, sciatica affects only one side of the lower body and the pain radiates from the lower back to the back of the thigh and down the leg. Some of the most common symptoms of sciatica are:
Constant pain in only one side of the buttock or leg, but rarely in both sides
Pain that originates in the low back or buttock and continues along the path of the sciatic nerve—down the back of the thigh and into the lower leg and foot
Pain that feels better when patients lie down or are walking, but worsens when standing or sitting
Pain typically described as sharp or searing, rather than dull
A "pins-and-needles" sensation, numbness or weakness, or a prickling sensation down the leg in some cases
Weakness or numbness when moving the leg or foot
Severe or shooting pain in one leg, making it difficult to stand up or walk
Pain and other symptoms in the toes, depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected
Lower back pain that, if experienced at all, is not as severe as leg pain
Symptoms may intensify during sudden movements, such as a sneeze or cough, or when changing positions, especially when moving from a sitting position to standing up.
When it comes to sciatica diagnosis is of the utmost importance. Since there are many disorders that cause sciatica, the chiropractor's first step is to determine what is causing the patient's sciatica. Forming a diagnosis involves a thoughtful review the patient's medical history, and a physical and neurological examination.Diagnostic testing includes an x-ray, MRI, CT scan and/or electrodiagnostic tests (nerve conduction velocity, electromyography). These examinations and tests help to detect possible contraindications to spinal adjustments and other chiropractic therapies.
The purpose of chiropractic treatment is to help the body's potential to heal itself. It is based on the scientific principle that restricted spinal movement leads to pain and reduced function and performance. Chiropractic care is non-invasive (non-surgical) and drug-free. The type of chiropractic therapy provided depends on the cause of the patient's sciatica. A sciatica treatment plan may include several different treatments such as ice/cold therapies, ultrasound, TENS, and spinal adjustments (sometimes called spinal manipulation).
Ice/Cold therapy reduces inflammation and helps to control sciatic pain.
TENS unit is a small box-like, battery-powered, portable muscle stimulating machine. Variable intensities of electrical current control acute pain and reduce muscle spasms. Larger versions of the home-use TENS units are used by chiropractors, physical therapists and other rehab professionals.
Adjustments (Spinal Manipulation) At the core of chiropractic care are spinal adjustments. Manipulation frees restricted movement of the spine and helps to restore misaligned vertebral bodies to their proper position in the spinal column. Spinal adjustment helps to reduce nerve irritability responsible for causing inflammation, muscle spasm, pain, and other symptoms related to sciatica. Adjustments should not be painful. Spinal manipulation is proven to be safe and effective.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve listed above please look into chiropractic care because there’s a good chance chiropractic will have you back on your feet in no time!