Sciatica is a common condition that is caused by the compression or irritation of a spinal nerve root in the lower back which passes into the leg. As the largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve extends from the lower back and passes down the back of each leg. When the nerve is irritated or pinched, it often results in lower back pain which radiates into the buttocks, legs, and further out from the site of nerve irritation.
Symptoms of Sciatica
The primary symptoms of Sciatica are pain, discomfort and tingling or numbness in the lower back or buttock area that travels into one or both legs and in the area surrounding sciatic nerve compression. Although most individuals with sciatica experience pain in similar areas, the frequency and intensity of pain often differ from person to person. Most individuals that experience pain from sciatica are in the 30 to 50 age range.
Many sciatica sufferers describe their pain in different way and symptoms can range from moderate to severe. For most people, sciatica manifests as a dull, achy pain with a pins and needles feeling that is like a toothache in the lower back. Others have complained of a sharp or shooting pain, burning, and even numbness and tingling that leads to weakness. Sciatica is unique in the way it seems to radiate outward from the source of injury and is also known as referred pain, neuralgia, or neuropathy due to the loss of nerve sensations and tingling it can cause.
Regardless of the individual symptoms or type of pain, sciatica can affect the lower back, legs, hips, and all areas along the sciatic nerve, and the pain can last for weeks at a time. The primary difference between sciatica and regular back pain is the way that pain radiates and travels down into the legs and the feet.
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica is caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back and pelvic region; however, sciatica is really a symptom of a disorder– rather than a disorder itself.
There is no one exact cause of sciatica other than pressure and irritation of the sciatic nerve. It’s fairly common for pregnant women to experience sciatica due to the pressure a growing fetus places on the sciatic nerve. There are a variety of common conditions that can trigger sciatica, including:
- Herniated or Bulging Discs
- Spinal Stenosis
- Degenerative Spinal Arthritis
- Spinal Disorders
- Spinal Tumors
- Piriformis Syndrome
- And Other Conditions
While many different conditions and disorders can result in sciatica, a herniated disc is the most common cause. Spinal discs function as cushions between vertebrae and provide the flexibility for the spine to move and function. A disk herniates when its outer layer cracks and pushes out the inner gel-like material. The rupture can rub against sensitive sciatic nerves, which causes pain and other symptoms such as discomfort, numbness, and tingling.
The truth is, there are many different conditions, both serious and common, that can result in sciatica. Even something as simple as constipation or continuously sitting off balance on a wallet in the back pocket can cause sciatic nerve pain.
How Can Chiropractic Care Help?
Since there are so many different possible causes of sciatica, correct diagnosis and treatment is essential to reducing pain and treating its underlying cause.
Chiropractors perform a variety of tests, exams, and even diagnostic imaging such as an MRI or CT scan to diagnose sciatica. The tests they use provide detailed information about the body to help better understand what is causing compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.
When you visit a chiropractic clinic or physical therapy center, your chiropractor will provide a comprehensive physical exam along with diagnostic testing to identify the root cause of your sciatica pain. Depending on tests results, they can create a personalized treatment plan that integrates different therapeutic modalities for optimal results.
Here are a few different treatments that a chiropractor may suggest for sciatica pain:
Adjustments and manual therapy
A chiropractor applies manual pressure and spinal adjustments to align the spine and provide patients with pain relief. If sciatica is the result of pressure on vertebral discs, a chiropractor may integrate spinal decompression therapy into the treatment plan, in order to gently stretch the spine and create more space between discs, relieving sciatic and spinal pressure.
Many people are told to take it easy when they have a flare up of sciatic nerve pain, however the opposite is true for providing long term relief and improvement. Avoiding activity can lead to more pain and long-term physical degeneration. Patients with sciatica should implement a low impact exercise program that incorporates stretching and strength.
Massage therapy help relieve and release pressure on the sciatic nerve. Trained massage therapists can deliver deep tissue massages to decrease tension and increase joint flexibility, which reduces muscle spasms and tightness. Targeted massage can help with sciatica pain, especially if the problem is with excess pressure in the sciatic nerve area.
Cold Laser Therapy
Laser therapy is an often-overlooked treatment option for pain–especially sciatic nerve pain. Cold laser therapy treatment is also referred to as low-level laser therapy to differentiate it from the higher energy level of a surgical laser, since it does not pierce skin or even leave a mark. Cold laser therapy is typically used to reduce inflammation and swelling, and control or dull pain.
Electric Stimulation/ TENS
Electric muscle stimulation (EMS) machines use variable intensities of electrical current to control acute pain and to control muscle spasms. One example of this kind of treatment that you may be familiar with is a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine. Chiropractors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals and rehabilitation specialists use larger versions of these units to help patients manage area specific pain such as sciatica.
Whole body vibration technology can be used in rehabilitation and physical therapy to help control pain and is seen in machines such as the VibraFlex ®. These type of vibration machines mechanically stimulating your muscles at a specific frequency, typically 12-27 Hz. Targeted muscles are given 12-27 impulses per second, causing them to contract and relax by the body’s natural, involuntary, muscle stretch reflex, 12-27 times per second.
RxWellness Spine & Health is a patient-centered health care facility in northern Virginia that is focused on chiropractic care and offers a multi-faceted treatment plan for patients suffering from pain due to sciatica. If you’re suffering from sciatica, call RxWellness Spine & Health at 703-904-9666 to set up an effective treatment plan. Contact us and allow the experts of chiropractic care to give you pain relief. We’ve helped many patients at our four northern Virginia offices, and we can help you too.