What is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and runs from the lower portion of the spine through the buttocks and down into the thigh and lower leg. It is responsible for feeling and movement in the major muscles of the hamstring, lower leg and foot.
Irritation of the sciatic nerve at any point along its path is commonly referred to as sciatica. Symptoms are distinctive — excruciating low back pain that travels down into the buttocks, legs and feet often is accompanied by numbness, tingling or burning.
Sciatica sufferers may experience shooting pains by merely walking, bending at the waist, sitting, sneezing, coughing or laughing. Severe cases can lead to weakness in the legs, bowel and bladder problems or paralysis.
Sciatica is a disorder that can be caused by an underlying problem, such as spinal tumors, or result from corrective procedures such as hip or knee surgery. Most sciatica is the result of disc degeneration or misalignment that causes vertebrae to pinch or compress the sciatic nerve.
A number of conditions that involve bones, joints and muscles could potentially result in sciatic symptoms. Trauma, age and occupation are key factors that affect disc degeneration and vertebrae alignment.
The human body can adapt to an amazing array of stressors. However, as people age, their discs lose moisture and shrink, increasing the risk for sciatica as the bodies’ ability to adapt diminishes. Symptoms that may appear “suddenly” are usually problems that have been present for a very long time. It may come as a surprise to learn that discs begin deteriorating about the age of 30, and the incidence of sciatica increases in women at the time of menopause as they lose bone density.
A series of traumas to the head, neck or spine, however minor, accumulate over time and can emerge one day without a single incident or warning sign. While a person may not remember the tackles on the football field or the falls taken while learning to ski, ride a bike or roller skate, the body does. Without regular care, a person’s spine will reveal a history of trauma that can lead to sciatica.
Occupations that involve prolonged sitting behind the wheel or in a chair, awkward positions, as well as those that long-distance truck driving), place these individuals at higher risk. The longer a person continues such work, the higher their risk.
No health care provider can guarantee a particular outcome, but chiropractic is a popular approach to sciatica due to its high success rate. Some sciatica patients experience relief in a short period of time, while for others, the process is delayed treatment.
Many suffer needlessly, hoping it will go away by itself or can be cured by home remedies, whereas others simply lack health insurance or fear surgery.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A diagnosis of sciatica does not indicate the point of nerve entrapment, it simply identifies the likely source of the problem. The two most common sites are where the sciatic nerve originates at the spine and where the nerve passes under the piriformis muscle.
A comprehensive health exam, palpation of the spine and X-rays can help a chiropractor determine the type of the techniques to target specific symptoms. Treatment may include a combination of stretching exercises, cryotherapy, ergonomic lifestyle changes, massage and chiropractic adjustments to release the pinched sciatic nerve. As the body responds, the treatment scope and techniques may be modified as symptoms alleviate and change.