What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a painful, debilitating condition that affects over 3 million Americans each year. It is known by many names – sciatic neuritis, sciatic neuralgia, lumbar radiculopathy. The causes of sciatica are numerous and sufferers experience a variety of symptoms. Many patients turn to addictive medications and risky surgeries to relieve their pain without understanding all their options.
Simply put, sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is partially responsible for movement and sensation from the lower back to the toes. This nerve originates in the very low back, travels through the pelvis, and extends down the back of each leg. Since the sciatic nerve is so long and moves through several major structures, there are many opportunities for it to become squeezed or damaged.
The causes of sciatica are plentiful, but fall into three major categories. The first is lumbar spine or pelvic misalignment. The pelvis is not actually a single, solid bone, but is made up of various pieces. These components can come out of alignment, whether from sports, a traumatic injury, exercise or just daily walking. A misaligned pelvis will usually ride higher on one side. This causes pressure on adjacent muscles, which in turn may compress the sciatic nerve, resulting in sciatic pain and dysfunction. Similarly the lumbar vertebra can rotate and put pressure on the lower lumbar nerve roots, which joined together to form the sciatic nerve.
3 MAJOR CAUSES OF SCIATICA: • lumbar spine or pelvic misalignment • piriformis syndrome • disc issues in the lower spine
Piriformis syndrome is also a common reason for sciatica. The piriformis is a band of muscle that stretches from the low spine, across the buttocks, to the thigh. If this muscle is strained from accident or overuse or spasms frequently, it can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica symptoms. Often this syndrome is the result of misalignment of the sacrum.
Another frequent cause of sciatica is disc issues in the lower spine. Since the sciatic nerve is actually a large combination of nerves that exit the spine at the lumbar and sacral levels, disc problems in these locations will usually result in sciatica. Disc bulging and herniation, along with improper alignment of the lumbar and sacral spine, are the typical culprits. These disc problems are caused from falls, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, prolonged sitting, lifting injuries and the everyday stresses of daily activity.
Sciatica often manifests as a shooting pain, beginning in the low back or buttocks and going down the back of the leg. Patients describe this pain as electrical or tingling, like pins and needles combined with numbness. At times, sciatic pain may be a burning sensation. Often, the pain is aggravated or intensified by coughing and sneezing.
The areas of pain include the tailbone, hips, buttocks, legs and feet. Occasionally, sciatica pain may even be felt in the toes. The severity of pain differs greatly from person to person. A lucky few find it only a minor annoyance, but more often the pain is described as crippling and severe.
Unfortunately, sciatica doesn’t just present as pain alone. Muscle dysfunction and impaired mobility also often occur. Victims may experience weakened muscles in the legs, frequent stumbling and an unsteady gait. The joints may become discoordinated and some sufferers report being unable to lift their toes.
The first step in treating sciatica is a proper diagnosis. The origin of the sciatic pain must be determined before effective therapy can begin. This almost always involves a physical exam, thorough medical history and imaging, such as x-rays. Once the cause of the nerve irritation is found then a treatment plan can be formed.
The main treatment offered by medical doctors is prescription medication. These are often in the form of strong narcotics to keep the pain under control. Unfortunately, these drugs come with many side effects, risk of addiction and do very little to treat the actual cause of the condition. Even anti-inflammatories, which are not addictive, can cause liver damage and irritate the stomach.
In more severe cases, surgery is presented as the only answer. Of course, surgery carries its own serious risks and no guarantee of success.
Chiropractic treatment of sciatica is much less invasive option. Chiropractors are very experienced and well-trained in addressing all forms of back pain and sciatica is no exception. Chiropractic techniques for sciatica treatment involve decompressing the sciatic nerve and making certain that the spine and pelvis are in proper alignment.
A chiropractor will assess the cause of the sciatica and apply spinal adjustments to relieve any herniated or bulging discs, particularly in the low back where the sciatic nerve originates. They will then make sure the pelvis is balanced and that the nerve passes through freely. Once it is clear that the nerves are no longer impinged, or pinched, sciatica stretches and exercises will be recommended and demonstrated.
Chiropractic techniques for sciatica have been regularly used for decades to successfully treat this painful condition. Research published in 2010 demonstrated that 60 percent of sciatica patients who were referred for surgery found such great pain relief from chiropractic spinal adjustments that they no longer felt they needed surgery for their symptoms. Best of all, their pain was diminished without the risks, recuperation time and long term effects of major invasive surgery.
While sciatica can be an excruciating and disheartening condition, hope is available. Chiropractic care presents a safe, natural path to sciatic pain relief and a return to a mobile and active lifestyle.
Chiropractor Dr. Haines | Absolute Health Chiropractic | 4110 NW 37th Place, Suite D | Gainesville, FL 32606 | (352) 377-7373