Sciatica is often described as one of the most painful conditions someone can experience. Women will sometimes say that it is more painful than childbirth! That being said, everyone's experience with sciatica can be quite different. It can range from intense pain shooting down the leg all the way to your foot, or a small achy pain that is felt in the buttocks. It can be associated with numbness and tingling, but not always. There are also more serious signs such as loss of bowel and bladder control or muscle weakness in the legs. These signs require immediate medical attention, but most people who have sciatica can find help from professionals such as chiropractors and physiotherapists.
One of the most frustrating things about sciatica is that it seems to creep up when we least expect it and strong medications don't make much difference to the pain levels. It can interfere with sleep and be quite debilitating for some.
In this article, we will learn all about what causes sciatica and what to do about it. So that if you are experiencing this painful condition you will know what to do and who to call if help is needed.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is defined as pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in one or both of the legs. Sometimes it is associated with back pain or pain in the buttock area too. As mentioned already it can be quite painful and debilitating at times, but not always.
What causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs from our low back area and down the back of the leg. Most commonly this pressure or irritation comes from a disc bulge or herniation in the low back that puts pressure on one of the spinal nerves. These spinal nerves in the low back come together in the pelvis to form the sciatic nerve. When a disc pinches the spinal nerve, sciatica, back pain or both can occur.
Sciatica can also be caused by pressure from the piriformis muscle, which is a muscle in our hips that surrounds the sciatic nerve, making it a common source for sciatica irritation and pinching.
Disc herniations or bulging discs, are a common condition of the low back that can be caused by acute injuries to the low back or chronic overuse, such as repetitive lifting. They can also be caused by degeneration of the discs. This happens as we age, but is accelerated by inactivity and sitting for long periods. 75% of people will develop one or more disc herniations in their spine. However they do not always lead to sciatica or back pain. But when they do, they require specific treatments that target the disc herniation and allow it to heal properly.
How To Treat Sciatica?
The first step to treating sciatica is finding out what is causing it. This should be done by a trained professional such as a chiropractor or physiotherapist. A thorough examination of the condition should be performed in order to determine where the problem is coming from. This should include a full history, range of motion, various tests and palpation of the affected area and surrounding joints and muscles. Once this is performed a treatment plan can be made based on the findings.
"There are lots of different approaches that one can use to treat sciatica but one of the best techniques is known as spinal decompression."
It is a gentle way of stretching the spine and relieving the pressure off of the nerve root. This is the treatment of choice if the sciatica is caused by a disc herniation. It gently pumps the spine, opening up the space between the vertebrae so that the disc can heal. It is safe and effective for people of all ages and also good for other low back related conditions.
Another treatment technique used to treat sciatica is muscle release therapy. This is used when the sciatic nerve is being pinched by the piriformis muscle. Releasing the knots or scar tissue in this muscle can provide relief of sciatica symptoms.
Spinal adjustments can also be used as part of a treatment plan for someone with sciatica. Spinal adjustments will help make sure the joints are moving properly so that proper healing can occur. Oftentimes when a disc herniates it can cause other dysfunction or restrictions in the spine. This chronic dysfunction can cause pain and should be addressed while treating sciatica.
How To Prevent Sciatica
The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent sciatica. But remember, taking these steps is not a guarantee that sciatica will not strike, but they are simple measures you can use to minimize the risk of getting sciatica.
Taking care of the discs in your low back must be a priority if you want to prevent sciatica. This is achieved by drinking lots of water, getting plenty of exercise, and seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis. These measures will help extend the life of your discs, and you will be less likely to have degenerative disc disease and the disc bulging that can occur as a result.
It is also important to be careful when lifting. Using proper form (bending at the hips, while keeping the back straight) and activating your core when lifting will put less stress on the discs and prevent bulging discs and their associated symptoms.
Disc health is related to your diet and whether or not you smoke. Smoking prevents the discs from getting the proper amount of nutrients and a poor diet can also do the same. Drinking lots of water and cleaning up your diet can go a long way to maintaining disc health and preventing sciatica.
Lastly, if you sit a lot throughout the day, remember to take breaks and move around as much as possible. Standing desks are also a great idea, as they allow you to change positions so that you are not putting as much pressure on your back all day.
If you found this article helpful, please share it with those who are struggling with sciatica, and if you or someone you know is in need of professional help, reach out to your office at 519-751-0728 to book your appointment today.
Dr. Spenser Dougley DC, FR, FRCms