Sciatica is a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body, extending from the lower back down the back of each leg. Typically, sciatica only affects one side of the lower body. Pain from sciatica usually extends from the lower back through the back of the thigh and calf. Depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain may also extend to the foot or toes.
The pain associated with sciatica can vary widely, from mild tingling, or a dull ache, to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating discomfort. Sometimes it may feel like pins-and-needles sensation or as extreme as an electric shock. Pain from sciatica often begins slowly and gradually intensifies over time. It may be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. Some people also experience numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You may have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk or a bone spur on the spine compresses part of the nerve. This often can be the result of a violent injury, such as a traffic accident. Additional common causes of sciatica include:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back)
- Degenerative disc disease (breakdown of discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae)
- Spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one)
Other factors that can contribute to sciatica include being overweight, not exercising regularly, wearing high heels, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft. Additional risk factors include:
- Age - related changes in the spine, such as herniated disks and bone spurs, are the most common causes of sciatica.
- Obesity - By increasing the stress on your spine, excess body weight may contribute to the spinal changes that trigger sciatica.
- Occupation - A job that requires you to twist your back, carry heavy loads or drive a motor vehicle for long periods may contribute to sciatica.
- Prolonged sitting - People who sit for prolonged periods or have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica than active people are.
- Diabetes - This condition, which affects the way your body uses blood sugar, increases your risk of nerve damage.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
At Centro Chiropractic Clinic one of our skilled physicians will begin by taking a complete patient history. You’ll then be asked to describe your pain and the symptoms associated with it, when it all began and what activities lessen or intensify the pain. Establishing a diagnosis will also require a physical and neurological exam that will focus on your spine and legs. You may also be asked to perform some basic activities that will test your reflexes along with sensory and muscle strength.
In some cases, we may recommend diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays, or an MRI. Diagnostic imaging can help our physicians rule out a more serious condition such as a tumor, or an infection or be used when a patient’s symptoms fail to respond to regular treatment.
For most people, sciatica can be treated effectively with chiropractic care. However, you must keep in mind that sciatica is a symptom and not a stand-alone medical condition. Treatment plans will vary depending on the underlying cause of the problem. Chiropractic treatment offers a non-invasive, drug-free treatment option, with the goal of restoring spinal movement, thereby improving function while decreasing pain and inflammation.
Depending on the cause of the sciatica, our physicians will create a treatment plan that will include but not limited to spinal adjustments, rehabilitative exercises and/or massage and ice/heat therapy. Postponing treatment or ignoring the symptoms can lead to chronic and persistent discomfort and a deteriorating physical condition that can result in long term problems that become harder to treat. Don’t ignore the pain! Call Centro Chiropractic Clinic today, at 503-545-1140 for a free consultation.