Chiropractic Care & Sciatica
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica or Lumbar Radiculopathy is a symptom of a “pinched sciatic nerve”. The sciatica symptoms (listed below) differ depending on where the nerve is pinched. A large range of symptoms results from lower back disorders (between L4 to S1 level lumbar segment). Symptoms include pain and weakness in the lower back, down the back of the leg and into the calf and feet.
It is important to remember that sciatica is a symptom of an underlying condition, not a diagnosis in itself. The symptoms are as follows:
- Constant mild to intense pain in only one side of the leg (rarely can occur in both legs)
- Pain gets worse when sitting
- Excruciating, burning or tingling down the leg (vs. a dull ache)
- Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or to walk
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve extends from the lower end of the spinal cord down the back of the thigh and divides into two above the knee joint. It is the longest nerve with the largest diameter in the human body. The sciatic nerve branches into smaller nerves as it travels down the legs providing feeling to your thighs, legs, and feet. It controls several muscles in your lower legs.
What are the Causes of Sciatica?
Sciatica is a common symptom of several different medical conditions like:
- Herniated Discs- This occurs when a disc is temporarily pushed out of place and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Disc Degeneration- Degeneration of spinal disc releases inflammatory proteins that can irritate the nerves adjacent to the degenerating spinal disc, including the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis- When a vertebra slips out of position it may compress the sciatic nerve running in between.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis- Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back may compress the sciatic nerve.
Less commonly, sciatica may be caused due to:
- Infection in the spine
- Injury to the spine, or the surrounding muscles and ligaments
- Growth within the spine, such as a tumor
- Cauda equina syndrome– Nerves on the lower part of the spinal cord are compressed and damaged. It can eventually lead to paralysis if left untreated.
Chiropractic Care & Sciatica
Chiropractors use hands-on spinal manipulation and other alternative treatments, such as, Flexion-distraction and pelvic blocking techniques to enable the body to heal itself without surgery or medication.
Most importantly, Chiropractic care is non-invasive (non-surgical) and drug-free. However, the type of chiropractic therapy provided mainly depends on the cause of the patient’s sciatica. Chiropractic Care involves no pain and helps to move the spinal disc away from the nerve, reducing inflammation of the nerve root, and eventually any associated pain and inflammation into the leg.
The chiropractic approach to sciatica (and other health problems) is to help restore the way your spine works, reducing nerve irritation and revitalizing your own healing ability.
Can Sciatica be prevented?
There are some sources of sciatica that are not preventable, such as degenerative disc disease, back strain due to pregnancy, and accidental falls. However, you will be able to prevent sciatica if you can take the following steps to protect your back.
- Practice proper lifting techniques. Lift with your back straight, bringing yourself up with your hips and legs, and holding the object close to your chest. Use this technique for lifting everything, no matter how light the load.
- Avoid/ stop cigarette smoking because that promotes disc degeneration.
- Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles of your back and abdomen, which work to support your spine.
- Use good posture when sitting, standing, and sleeping. Good posture helps to relieve the pressure on your lower back.
- Avoid sitting for long periods. Take frequent breaks and stretch your back.