What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a medical condition characterized by pain in the lower back that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, the largest and longest spinal nerve in the human body. It originates in the lumbar spine and courses down the buttocks, the back of the thigh, and the back of the leg. When something puts pressure or injures the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in these areas. While the pain can be severe at times, it is worth noting that up to 90 percent of sciatica sufferers recover without the need to undergo surgery.
Common Causes of Sciatica
By far the most common cause is damage to an intervertebral disc (IV disc)in the lumbar or sacral region of the spine. The IV discs are gel-like cushions located between adjacent vertebrae. They consist of the semi-fluid nucleus pulposus surrounded by a fibrocartilaginous tissue called annulus fibrosus.
When certain conditions (e.g. ruptured disc, slipped disc, herniated disc) occurs in the lower back, the nerve root can become compressed and cause pain along with the distribution of the sciatic nerve.
Wear and tear on the vertebrae due to aging or degenerative disc disease can also cause sciatica. The damaged vertebra exerts undue pressure on the sciatic nerve root and thus elicits the symptoms. Other conditions that can cause sciatic nerve compression include the following:
- An injury such as a fractured pelvis
- Piriformis syndrome caused by spasm of the piriformis muscle in the buttock
- Spinal stenosis or the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back
- Spondylolisthesis wherein a vertebra slips forward over another one
- Pregnancy, which can add excessive strain on the lumbar spine
In rare instances, sciatica may be caused by a benign tumour or by cancer that has metastasized. It can even be idiopathic (i.e., a disease or condition that occurs spontaneously or without a known cause).
Symptoms of Sciatica
Pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttock and down the back of the leg is the hallmark of sciatica. Other symptoms vary, but the most common include the following:
- Hip pain
- Pain in the leg or buttock that is worse when sitting
- A shooting pain that can make it difficult to stand up
- Burning or tingling sensation that runs down the leg
- Numbness, weakness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
How Can a Chiropractor Help with Sciatica?
Conservative treatments for sciatica are feasible during the first 6 to 12 weeks following the onset of symptoms. Chiropractic care is a good option during this period. Chiropractors are specifically trained to work with musculoskeletal problems, so they can help identify the exact cause of the symptoms.
The objective of chiropractic treatment is to augment the natural healing properties of the body. It is based on the principle that restricted movements of the spine can cause pain and reduced function. Chiropractic treatment is non-invasive and often do not require the intake of pain medications.
Chiropractors use a number of treatment protocols to help ease the pain. The type of therapy used depends on the cause of sciatica. A treatment plan may include several different modalities, including the following:
Ice/Cold (Cryotherapy) -A cold pack or ice application can help reduce inflammation or swelling and numb sore muscles, alleviating some of the pain. This is usually done during the acute or early stage, but as sciatica progresses, the chiropractor may opt to use hot packs or hot compresses instead.
TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is a pain treatment technique that utilizes low voltage electric current to stimulate muscles and disrupt pain signals in the body. It is usually applied using a TENS unit, which is a portable, battery-powered device. Electrodes are placed on the skin, overlying the target area. They deliver variable intensities of electrical current to reduce pain and muscle spasms.
Ultrasound is a treatment that utilizes vibration to deliver heat and energy to the lower back, including spinal muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. The sound waves generate heat that penetrates these tissues. The heat, in turn, improves circulation and reduces muscle spasms, stiffness, pain, and swelling.
Spinal Adjustment (Manipulation)-Spinal adjustments form the foundation of chiropractic treatment. They are the ones that differentiate chiropractic care from other fields of medicine. Manipulation improves range of motion and eases restricted movement of the spine. It is also effective in restoring misaligned vertebrae to their normal position. Adjustment techniques vary from a high-velocity thrust to those that combine gentle pressure and minimal application of force.
Risk Factors for Sciatic Nerve Pain
The major risk factors for sciatica include the following:
- Age – sciatica is more common among people between 30 and 50 years of age
- Genetics (e.g., congenital abnormalities of the spine)
- Profession or physical activities that involve heavy lifting or twisting the back
- Sedentary lifestyle including jobs that require sitting for extended periods of time
- Non-spinal disorders like diabetes or prolonged sitting on a back pocket wallet.
- Menopause which may result in reduced bone density
Sciatica is a pretty common medical problem. As a matter of fact, it has been estimated that up to 40% of people will have sciatica at least once in their life. The intensity of the pain and other symptoms depend on the severity of compression on the sciatic nerve. It can be debilitating for some, but the good news is that chiropractic care offers a conservative, non-invasive approach to treatment. You don’t even need to take prescription medications to help alleviate the pain. Work closely with your chiropractor, and you should be on your way to a speedy recovery.
Every year, millions of Canadians rely on chiropractors for relief from sciatica. More people are now aware of the fact that chiropractic is a highly regulated field with highly-trained practitioners.
For those in Ontario, PhysioCore is one of the most trusted rehab therapy clinics offering chiropractic treatment. We’ve gained a sterling reputation for proving outstanding care by being a multi-disciplinary injury rehab center. We take utmost pride on our team, which boasts 40 years of combined experience. So if you’re seeking sciatic pain treatment in Thornhill, book an appointment with us to learn more on how we can help and get you moving again!