What is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. When this nerve is injured or pressure is put on it, it can cause pain in the lower back that radiates to the hip, buttocks and one or both legs.
How do I know if I have Sciatica?
Sciatica is characterized by pain in the lower back that radiates down one or both legs. The pain is described as dull, achy, sharp, like “pins and needles” or similar to electric shocks. Other symptoms associated with sciatica include burning, numbness and tingling sensations. Sciatic nerve pain varies in intensity from mild to severe, and frequency may range from occasional to constant. The onset is generally gradual and not necessarily associated with a previous event.
Sciatica is also known as radiating or referred pain, neuropathy, or neuralgia.
What causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is usually caused by sciatic nerve compression. The nerve compression can happen for a variety of reasons. Here are the most common reasons: lumbar spine subluxation (misaligned vertebrae), herniated or bulging discs, pregnancy, childbirth, tumors, and non-spinal disorders such as diabetes and constipation.
Another common cause of sciatica is piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is named after the piriformis muscles that are located in the lower part of the spine which connect to the thigh bone and assist in hip rotation. The sciatic nerve runs beneath the piriformis muscle. This muscle is prone to injury from a slip and fall incident, hip arthritis, or a difference in leg length. These situations can cause cramping and spasms to occur in the piriformis muscle resulting in a pinched 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.
How do you diagnose Sciatica?
Here at Messina Family Chiropractic, we regularly treat patients with sciatica. Since there are many disorders that cause sciatica, we will determine what is the root cause of your sciatica by taking a thorough patient history during your physical and neurological exam. In some instances, diagnostic testing such as an x-ray, MRI, CT scan and/or electrodiagnostic test (electromyography) might be necessary. These examinations and tests help to detect possible contraindications to spinal adjustments and other chiropractic therapies.
How is Sciatica treated?
Our care is non-invasive (non-surgical) and drug-free. The purpose of chiropractic treatment is to help the body’s natural ability to heal itself. It is based on the principle that restricted spinal movement leads to pain and reduced function and performance. The type of chiropractic therapy we will recommend will depend on our evaluation during your initial visit. A sciatic treatment plan may include any of the following:
- Ice/Cold Therapies: An ice pack may be applied to the lower back for 15 minutes every few hours to help reduce associated muscle pain, muscle spasm and sciatic nerve inflammation. It is important to wrap a thin towel around the ice pack to avoid putting the cold pack directly on the skin.
- Ultrasound: a gentle heat created by sound waves that penetrate deep into tissues. Ultrasound increases circulation and helps to reduce muscle spasms, cramping, swelling, stiffness and pain.
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation): a small, box-like battery-powered, portable muscle stimulation machine that offers variable intensities of electrical current to control acute pain and reduce muscle spasms. The larger versions of the TENS units are used by chiropractors, physical therapists and other rehab professionals.
- Spinal Adjustments (spinal manipulation): Spinal adjustments free restricted movement of the spine and help restore misaligned vertebrae to their proper position. Adjustments also help reduce nerve irritability responsible for causing inflammation, muscle spasms, pain and other symptoms related to sciatica. Spinal manipulation is proven to be safe, effective and pain-free. This type of therapy sets chiropractors apart in the medical community.
- Stretching/Exercise: It is beneficial to gently stretch the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles to help assist optimal biomechanical functioning to the trunk and legs. Walking and riding a stationary bike are gentle exercises that will similarly assist in the recovery process.
The best care for sciatic pain is to schedule regular chiropractic appointments. This allows us to better detect and correct any spinal dysfunction that may be a source of the sciatic pain. Contact our office today to start living a pain-free life.