Sciatic nerve pain – referred to as a Sciatica – originates in the low back or buttock and travels into one or both legs. Of patients reporting low back pain, it’s estimated that 5-10% have Sciatica. Unfortunately, 10-40% of people will experience it in their lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you need to live with it. Your chiropractor knows ways to help moderate Sciatica, or greatly reduce how much it affects your life.
The condition known as sciatica refers to the sciatic nerve that runs down the length of each leg, starting in your back and ending at the heels of your feet. Sciatic nerve pain varies in intensity and frequency and can be minimal, moderate, severe and occasional, intermittent, frequent, or constant.
Sciatic pain may present differently from person to person. Common descriptions include pain sensations that are dull, achy, sharp, toothache-like, or shooting leg pain like an electric shock. Other sciatica symptoms may include numbness or tingling sensations.
What Sciatica Is and Isn’t
Sciatica is different from low back pain in that it results from the sciatic nerve rather than the spine. This nerve serves an important function, affecting the hamstrings, calf muscles, lower leg muscles, and some foot muscles. In many cases, the pain gets worse with twisting, bending, sneezing, or coughing.
Sciatica is also called radiating or referred pain, neuropathy, or neuralgia. One misconception is that sciatica is a disorder. Instead, sciatica is a symptom of a disorder.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Sciatic Pain
Researchers estimate that 90% of cases are caused by a herniated disc where the nerve root is compressed – something that may occur because of an injury or age-related wear and tear. Other possible causes include lumbar stenosis (narrowing of the spine) or piriformis syndrome.
Piriformis syndrome is named after the piriformis muscle. This muscle is 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 the piriformis muscle to cramp or spasm, which can pinch the sciatic nerve and cause inflammation and pain.
Another problem is sciatic nerve compression. Spinal disorders known to cause sciatic nerve pain include misalignment of the vertebrae in the lumbar spine, pregnancy and childbirth, spinal tumors, and non-spinal disorders such as diabetes, constipation, and regularly sitting on a wallet in your back pants pocket.
When patients complain of pain radiating down their leg, chiropractors will typically conduct a full health history and physical examination to determine whether the sciatic nerve is the cause.
After a comprehensive exam, advanced imaging may be needed to determine if referral to other healthcare practitioners or a medical doctor is the best course of action for your situation.
Chiropractors Can Present Various Treatment Options
There are a variety of treatments that chiropractors can offer, including recommendations on lifestyle changes. Options can include:
Who is at Risk for Sciatica?
Certain risk factors increase the chance of developing sciatica. These include:
In addition, certain occupations are predisposed to sciatic nerve pain. Examples include machine operators, truck drivers, and people who have jobs requiring continuous reaching and bending.
Talk to Your Chiropractor About Ways to Prevent Sciatic Pain
In many cases, engaging in physical activity helps because it promotes the release of pain-fighting endorphins and reduces inflammation.
Talk to your chiropractor about the most appropriate option for you. A few suggestions:
Your Chiropractor is Your Partner for Better Health
Because the goal of chiropractors is the preservation and restoration of health through a nonpharmaceutical approach, at-home therapies and lifestyle modifications may offer relief. Examples:
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC), founded in 1922, is a private, nonprofit, chiropractic and health science-focused university in Overland Park, Kansas. The CUKC on-campus Chiropractic Health Center is open to the public and treats patients from Kansas City’s 15-county metro area. Our goal is to provide care and solutions for a better, more productive life for our patients.