Sciatica is a distracting pain that starts in the lower back and extends down into one or both legs. It tends to affect those in their forties and fifties. Five pairs of nerves exit the spine in the lower back to form the sciatic nerves. These smaller nerves branch into the thigh, knee, calf, ankle, and foot. The sciatic nerves can become irritated through a number of factors. Sciatica itself is not a condition. In fact, it is a symptom of another condition. Sciatica originates from compression of the sciatic nerves which can occur from a number of things:
- lumbar spine misalignment
- direct pressure on the sciatic nerve
- non-musculoskeletal disorders like diabetes and constipation
- small activities like sitting uncomfortably on your wallet
Sciatica can also result from damage to the discs between the vertebra that make up your spine. These soft, pulpy discs can bulge, herniated or rupture if too much pressure is placed on them. This puts stress on nearby nerves, resulting in swelling, inflammation and pain. Once a disc has been damaged, pain symptoms of sciatica can appear on small actions, like coughing, sneezing or twisting. Pain usually worsens with long periods of sitting or standing, or with extended bed rest.
People can experience sciatica in a variety of symptoms, intensity and frequency. Commonly, sciatic pain includes achy, sharp pins and needles down the leg, with a sensation similar to electric shocks. Sciatic nerve pain can also involve numbness, burning and muscle weakness. Pain can last for a few hours, or last as long as weeks.
As there are many causes of sciatica, is it important to first identify what the underlying problem is. Treatment for sciatica must be tailored to address the root of the problem, or it will not be effective. Chiropractors are specially trained in assessing and identifying the source of sciatica. Investigation of underlying causes involves taking a full medical history, examination of the affected area, and occasionally x-rays or MRIs.
Chiropractors can then design a treatment plan based on the cause, symptoms and the history of the individual’s episodes. Sciatica treatment may involve soft tissue therapy to reduce any muscle inflammation or tension, and chiropractic adjustments to realign the vertebra and discs in the spine. Sciatica exercises can also be recommended, to improve the motion in the area, and to reduce painful symptoms.
Fortunately, sciatica often responds to safe, natural chiropractic care. Improving joint motion with a series of chiropractic adjustments has produced results for millions. Many patients report that they can resume their lives and their symptoms disappear without drugs and surgery. Santilli found in a double blinded clinical trial1 that patients with sciatica from a disc protrusion had a high reduction in pain from spinal manipulation then mobilization.
1. Spine J. 2006 Mar-Apr;6(2):131-7. Epub 2006 Feb 3.Chiropractic manipulation in the treatment of acute back pain and sciatica with disc protrusion: a randomized double-blind clinical trial of active and simulated spinal manipulations. Santilli V, Beghi E, Finucci S.