Sciatica involves pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve, the biggest single nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve begins in the lumbar area of the spine (lower back), runs deep in the body, and comes out just below the buttocks. It ends just above the posterior knee.
Sciatica is not a diagnosis or a condition, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. Something is causing this nerve to become compressed or irritated in some way and the end result is pain.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Most commonly, sciatica includes one or more of the following:
- Pain in your buttock or down your leg, usually on one side only
- Muscle weakness in your foot or leg
- Tingling in your foot or leg
- Pain that is worsened when sitting for a long period of time
- Numbness in your foot or leg
- Problems moving the affected foot
The hallmark pain of sciatica has to do with discomfort or radiating pain anywhere along the nerve pathway, but most likely will follow a path from your lower back area into the buttock on one side and down the back of your thigh. The pain has been described anywhere from mild to intense and can feel similar to an electric shock. You may see a combination of pain and numbness in the affected leg.
Who Gets Sciatica?
Sciatica is a fairly common condition and affects anywhere from 15 to 40 percent of people during their life. It seems that this condition is age-related as it rarely hits anyone under the age of 20. It is most often seen in those around 50 years old. Regular walking seems to increase the risk of developing sciatica, as does doing great physical labor, such as carpentry and operating heavy machinery. It is seen less often in those with office jobs. Risk factors include:
- Age: Age-related changes in the spine (herniated discs and bone spurs) are the most common reasons for sciatica to occur.
- Occupation: Twisting your back, driving a vehicle for long periods of time, or carrying heavy loads can all increase your chances of getting sciatica.
- Prolonged sitting: People who are less active and lead a sedentary lifestyle develop sciatica more often than those who are active and in good shape.
- Diabetes: Affecting the way your body uses blood sugar, this can increase your risk of nerve damage.
- Being overweight: Extra weight increases stress on your spine and can contribute to the changes in the spine associated with sciatica.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica happens when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched, most often due to a herniated disc or an overgrowth of a bone spur on your vertebrae. In more rare cases, the nerve is compressed by a tumor or damage is caused by a disease, like diabetes. The following can also be the cause of sciatica:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis — narrowing of the spinal canal
- Degenerative disc disease — breakdown of the discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae
- Irritation of the nerve roots in the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine
- Piriformis syndrome
- Spondylolisthesis — one vertebra slips forward over another
Caring for Sciatica — What’s the Best Option?
In some cases, sciatica may clear up on its own in a few weeks if you follow some home care remedies. If it does not, further professional care may be needed, and we will discuss that next. Physical therapy for sciatica is often effective. It falls into two main categories:
- Active therapy: aerobic exercise, stretching, strength training
- Passive relief: massage, ultrasound, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
Here are some additional ideas to try at home:
Keep Moving: Properly keeping active can really help with the pain of sciatica.
- Stretching: Working to relax the muscles that have become resistant to movement and may be causing stress on the sciatic nerve, stretching is a great pain reliever for sciatica.
- Aerobics: Including long walks, swimming laps, or another exercise that increases your heart rate, aerobics is a good way to relieve not only sciatic pain but arthritis as well because it releases endorphins, feel-good hormones, in the body.
- Strength training: When done specifically for sciatica, this type of strength training focuses on proper back alignment making the lumbar region, the gluteal muscles, and the thigh muscles stronger so as to decrease chances of injury and increase proper back alignment.
Slow Down: In some instances, less activity can be helpful:
- Massage: Deep and firm pressure will soothe cramped muscles and make the nerves and ligaments relax.
- TENS: A small, controlled amount of energy can sometimes decrease the severity and relieve muscle spasms and can help release pain-blocking endorphins, similar to an aerobic workout.
- Ultrasound: Sound waves given off by an ultrasound machine can help heal the body more quickly and relieve stiff and inflexible muscles by promoting circulation and giving the muscles a mild form of heat.
Professional Help for Sciatica
What we are about to tell you may seem strange at first, but hear us out. If the above suggestions do not help, your next step may be to visit us here at our office in Rochester Hills, Michigan. We focus on making sure the top bones of the neck are in proper alignment. How does that help the lower back? You can think of it much like dominoes: if one vertebra is out of place, the entire spine is affected. If either the C1 or C2 vertebra has moved out of place, the body kicks in what is called righting reflex. This is an automatic body function that keeps the eyes level with the horizon line. However, to do this, the spine sometimes has to compensate by twisting and bending. This can be the underlying cause of sciatica as the sciatic nerve can become inflamed or irritated.
By correcting the neck misalignment, many have seen an improvement in or the end of their sciatica. This is done through a gentle procedure that does not involve forcing the neck or cracking the spine to get positive results.
To schedule a complimentary NUCCA consultation, call 248-831-0729 or just click the button below.
If you are outside of the local area, you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com.