Sciatica is one of the most common reasons people seek chiropractic care. There are over 3 million cases of sciatica every year in the United States alone! This page will help explain what sciatica is, what the most common causes of sciatica are, as well as give you the best ways to successfully treat sciatica.
What is Sciatica?
By definition, sciatica is inflammation of the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the human body, that starts in the lower back, runs through the buttocks and then down the back of the leg. When the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed, common symptoms include lower back pain, with pain radiating down the back of the leg. Instead of leg pain, sciatica can often present as numbness, tingling or even weakness in the legs. Although sciatic symptoms are usually present in only one leg, it can occur in both at the same time. In very rare cases, sciatica can also be associated with bowel or bladder problems. This is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately.
The type of pain caused by sciatica can vary from person to person. Some people describe the pain as dull or achy, while some people experience a sharp burning pain. In some cases, it can even be described as an electrical shock. Sciatic symptoms are often made worse by coughing, sneezing, or sitting for extended periods of time.
Common Causes of Sciatica
Bulging, Herniated or Degenerative Discs
One of the most common causes of sciatica is either a herniated or degenerative disc in the lower back. When a disc becomes herniated, the inner portion of the disc begins to push outside of the disc. If the disc herniates far enough, it can begin to put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine. These nerves then extend to run down the leg. This nerve pressure causes sciatica.
Over time, the spacing between discs begins to decrease. As disc space gets smaller, it begins to decrease the amount of space for the spinal nerves. As a result, degenerative discs can also lead to sciatic symptoms. Although degenerative discs are most common in the elderly population, they can occur at any age, especially in people who have had significant trauma.
Although herniated discs can only be diagnosed via MRI, degenerative discs can be seen on x-ray. A herniated disc can also be strongly suspected based on symptoms and a thorough examination.
Another common cause of sciatica are misalignments in the lower back or pelvis. When either a vertebra in the lumbar spine or the pelvis shifts out of its normal alignment, it can begin to put pressure on the spinal nerves, leading to sciatic symptoms. Chiropractors are trained to find these misalignments and to correct them with chiropractic adjustments. If your sciatica is caused by these misalignments, you should respond well to chiropractic care.
People that sit for long periods of time, like office workers or truck drivers, are more prone to sciatica. When you sit for prolonged periods, the muscles in the back of the legs, especially the hamstring and gluteal muscles become extremely tight. The sciatic nerve runs through the buttocks, so tight muscles can squeeze the nerve causing sciatic symptoms. Tight hamstrings and gluteal muscles are also a common cause for pelvic misalignments, making sciatic symptoms even more likely.
Chiropractic care has been proven to be both safe and effective in the treatment of sciatica. Whether your sciatic symptoms are caused by a disc issue, misalignment, or poor posture, a chiropractor can likely help. Not only can a chiropractor help relieve your symptoms, they can also give you advice on exercises that can keep the symptoms from returning. For more information on chiropractic care, click here.
Spinal decompression is one the best treatments for sciatica, especially if the symptoms are being caused by a herniated or degenerative disc. At Apex Chiropractic, we use the Back on Trac to help relieve pressure and promote healing of the disc. Decompression is a great option for people that have been told that they need surgery or injections to treat sciatica. For more information on spinal decompression, click here.
Correct Your Ergonomics and Exercise
Since prolonged sitting commonly exacerbates sciatica, it is important to make sure that you are sitting properly when you do have to sit for long periods. Correcting the ergonomics at your desk can help with sciatica. Taking mini breaks to stretch every hour is also very helpful. Stretching the hamstring and hip rotators is extremely important in the treatment of sciatica. For more information on proper ergonomics, click here.