Have you ever felt a sharp, shooting pain travel down the back of your leg? How about a dull, persistent ache or tingling and numbness? If these sound at all familiar, you may be suffering from a condition known as sciatica, which affects up to 40 percent of the population. If you struggle with persistent low back or leg pain, or discomfort during long periods of sitting or standing, there’s a significant chance you’re dealing with sciatic nerve irritation. Here to discuss the telltale signs of sciatica and what you can do to experience relief, are the experts at Bomberg Chiropractic.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a term used to refer to the symptom set that presents when the sciatic nerve is irritated, entrapped, or compressed. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body, originating in the lumbar spine and traveling down the back of each leg. At times, the nerve becomes compressed by degenerative spinal changes, injuries, or even muscular tension. This compression is what generates the irritating and painful set of symptoms referred to as sciatica. Often, patients confuse sciatica with other types of low back pain that may instead be due to strained muscles or improper lifting techniques.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
The telltale symptom of sciatica is radiating pain that travels from the low back, through the buttock, and down the leg. Typically, pain and irritation are unilateral, meaning the symptoms affect only one side of the body. However, in rare cases, patients may experience bilateral sciatica if the lumbar spine undergoes more severe degenerative changes. Beyond pain, sciatica elicits several other symptoms which may include:
● Numbness of the buttock, leg, or foot
● Tingling that radiates down the leg
● Burning sensation in the low back, buttock, or leg
● Lower body weakness
Often, simple changes in postural positioning elicit more severe symptoms. Many patients find their discomfort increases significantly during extended periods of standing or sitting. Activities that require a slight forward bend, such as washing dishes or preparing meals, also tend to aggravate sciatica symptoms.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica may stem from structural abnormalities within the spine, injuries, spinal tumors, or severe muscular tension in the gluteus muscles. A few of the more common underlying causes of sciatica include:
● Herniated Spinal Disc(s). Disc herniation is the most common cause of sciatica, affecting approximately one in 50 individuals. Spinal discs consist of a tough, fibrous outer layer and a gelatinous inner layer that, together, act as a cushion between each vertebra. When the gel-like substance contained within the disc pushes through the tough outer layer, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve root, causing pain and irritation. Often, disc herniation is a result of degenerative disc disease.
● Spinal Stenosis. The natural aging process can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal from which the sciatic nerve originates. Sometimes, this narrowing puts pressure on the sciatic nerve root, resulting in pain and irritation.
● Bone Spurs. Bone spurs are tiny bone growths that may form on the spinal vertebrae. When the spur becomes large enough, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve root.
● Piriformis Syndrome. The piriformis is a muscle located deep in the center of each buttock that connects the sacrum (lower spine) to the uppermost portion of the femur (thigh bone). Because the piriformis passes directly over the sciatic nerve, if it becomes exceedingly tight or spasms, it can put significant pressure on the sciatic nerve.
● Injury. Improper lifting techniques or sudden, traumatic injury can injure the sciatic nerve itself, or cause injury to surrounding structures, which can result in pressure on the nerve.
Who is Most Susceptible?
Generally, sciatica affects individuals between the ages of 30 and 50; however, degenerative spinal changes like stenosis and arthritis typically occur long past the age of 50. If the condition develops as a result of spinal degeneration, it may affect individuals far more advanced in age. Pregnant women often develop temporary sciatica symptoms due to increased load on the pelvic structures. The weight of a developing fetus can put substantial pressure on the SI joints, hip joints, and piriformis muscle, thereby irritating the sciatic nerve.
Although sciatica often results due to degenerative spinal conditions, those who are highly active are also at risk. The more force your spine must tolerate, the higher your chances of developing early disc degeneration. If you practice high-impact sports or have a highly physical vocation that involves substantial lifting, you’re at a higher risk of developing sciatica. Conversely, too much sitting can also cause compression and degeneration of your spinal discs. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, work a desk job, or drive extensively, your risk increases.
How Can Chiropractic Help?
Non-invasive chiropractic therapy is one of the most effective, yet gentlest forms of treatment for relief from sciatic pain and irritation. Through careful physical examination and a thorough review of your medical history and day-to-day activities, your chiropractor will determine the underlying cause of your sciatica symptoms. The appropriate diagnosis is a critical step in formulating the most effective course of treatment. Once a diagnosis has been made, your chiropractor will then pursue the appropriate treatment techniques which may include:
● Movement-Based Massage. If the sciatic nerve is entrapped or irritated by muscular tension, movement-based massage, also known as active release technique, can help release the tension, reduce pain, and restore normal range of motion.
● Spinal Adjustments. Gentle spinal manipulation helps bring your vertebrae back into proper alignment, reducing pressure on the sciatic nerve root. If your hips or SI joints are out of alignment and causing irritation to the sciatic nerve, these joints may also be adjusted.
● TENS Therapy. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) uses low-voltage electrical current to stimulate muscle tissue, thereby reducing pain and irritation. When placed on the skin, electrodes transfer a gentle electrical current that helps to calm tense and spastic muscles. If muscle spasm is causing sciatic irritation (as is often the case in piriformis syndrome), TENS therapy can drastically reduce or even eliminate excessive tension. Electrical current from the TENS unit also helps to mitigate pain signals sent from the sciatic nerve to the brain, thereby reducing discomfort and irritation.
Pain Relief Starts at Bomberg Chiropractic
If you believe you’re suffering from sciatica pain or even general low back pain, our caring and knowledgeable team is here to help. We’re dedicated to delivering knowledgeable, compassionate, and effective treatments for our patients in and around the New Hope, MN area. Feel free to contact our team with any questions, or to schedule your appointment, give us a call at 763-450-1755. Let us help get you out of pain and back to living life on your own terms!