Many individuals make the mistake of referring to any leg, hip, or lower back pain as sciatica. However, sciatic pain is typically very targeted, and is a result of an underlying disorder. Understanding the specific cause of your sciatic pain is critical in efficiently and safely treating it, without exacerbating the root condition.
Chiropractic care is a focused approach to pain relief that can alleviate the discomfort and numbness that accompanies sciatica symptoms. Utilizing gentle manipulation, as well as soothing therapies, discover how the physicians at ChiroCare of Florida can safely eliminate your sciatic nerve pain.
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
The sciatic nerve is the widest and longest single nerve in the human body. In fact, five nerve roots from the lumbar spine join together to form this large nerve, which is about as wide as 2 cm at its largest point.
The sciatic nerve is formed on both the left and right hand side of the lumbar spine. It is the fusion of the fourth and fifth lumbar nerves, as well as the first three nerves of the sacral spine, which is located just below the lumbar. Medically speaking, these are the L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3 nerves.
Beginning from spinal cord nerve roots located in the lower back, the sciatic nerve extends out through the buttocks and down the legs to send nerve signals to the lower limbs, ultimately reaching the toes. The sciatic nerve is responsible for providing strength to the leg, as well as transmitting sensations and supplying reflexes. It connects the spinal cord to the outside of the thigh, the hamstring muscles in the back of the thighs, and muscles in the lower leg and feet.
When the sciatic nerve is compressed or impaired, it can cause symptoms to radiate down the body, causing muscle weakness and/or numbness, and tingling in the leg, ankle, foot, and toes.
Understanding the Symptoms of Sciatica
Symptoms of sciatica are typically dictated by which of the five nerve roots are pinched or irritated. At each level of the nerve root that is affected, different symptoms may appear.
- Damage at the L4 level: Pain and/or numbness in the lower leg and feet, inability to flex the foot upwards, and possibly reduced knee-jerk reflex.
- Damage at the L5 level: Pain and numbness at the top of the foot, including in the web between the big toe and second toe, as well as an inability to flex the big toe.
- Damage at the S1, S2, & S3 level: Pain and/or numbness to the outside of the foot, difficulty raising the heel off the ground, and possibly reduced ankle-jerk reflex.
Those who suffer from sciatica frequently only experience it on one side of the lower body. Often times, pain will begin in the lower back and travel down through the back of the leg, the thigh, and down the leg. This pain can be burning or tingling, a numbing sensation, or a shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up. This pain can reach the foot or toes, and is often worse when sitting.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica occurs when the roots that make up the sciatic nerve become irritated. With this being said, it is important to note that the term “sciatica” is not a name for a condition in itself, but rather defines a set of symptoms. Sciatica is actually a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Sciatica is triggered by the irritation of the nerve roots, which can be caused by a variety of conditions. In about 90 percent of cases, it is the result of a lumbar disc herniation, in which the inner gel-like material of a spinal disc protrudes through a crack in the disc’s surface. The material can press directly on the sciatic nerve causing compression, inflammation, and typical sciatica symptoms.
This irritation of nerves as a result of an abnormal spinal disc is referred to as radiculopathy. This is why sciatica is commonly referred to as lumbar radiculopathy, due to its location in the lumbar spine. However, sciatica can also be referred to as pinched or compressed nerve pain.
Alternative Causes of Sciatica
- Degenerative Disc Disease: The spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae wear down over time.
- Spondylolisthesis: A slippage of one vertebra such that it is out of line with the one above or below it, narrowing the opening through which the nerve exits.
- Spinal Stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal that places pressure on neighboring nerves.
- Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis muscle becomes tight or spasms, which can put pressure on and irritate the sciatic nerve.
- Pregnancy: Adds a severe strain on the spine.
- Swelling from Arthritis or Sprains: Inflammation compresses nerves causing pain and irritation.
- Osteochondroma: Noncancerous bone growth.
For adults over 60, degenerative changes in the spine, like lumbar spinal stenosis, are the typical culprits. However, sciatica typically occurs in people 30 to 50 years of age. Most people are likely to have some disc deterioration by the time they reach 40. However, the majority of sciatica symptoms are caused by either a herniated disc or a type of overgrowth of bone on the vertebrae.
More rarely, the nerve can be compressed by a tumor or damaged by a disease such as diabetes.
Chiropractic Care for Sciatica
If you’ve been suffering sciatica symptoms, it is crucial to visit a physician as soon as possible. As sciatic nerve pain can stem from a variety of conditions of the spine, having a thorough understanding of the underlying issue will be pivotal in planning an effective treatment plan.
At ChiroCare of Florida, your physician will likely begin your visit by requesting medical imaging tests, such as x-rays, to help pinpoint directly what is compressing the spinal nerves. Chiropractic care is centered around the belief that when spinal movement is restricted it leads to pain, reduced function, and performance. Therefore, a physician will perform adjustments to free any restricted movement of the spine and help to restore misaligned vertebral bodies to their proper position.
Chiropractic adjustments, also known as spinal manipulations, can help with spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, and inflammation from arthritis or sprains. These adjustments place the spine back in its optimal position, help to make space for nerves to pass through the spinal canal, and relieve the compression that causes sciatic nerve pain.
At ChiroCare of Florida, a sciatica treatment plan is often composed of a variety of therapies including:
- Physical Therapy: Gentle stretches help lessen nerve compression.
- Massage Therapy: Soothes tight muscles and releases pain-fighting endorphins.
- Cryotherapy: Freezing temperatures reduce inflammation to help control sciatica pain.
- Electric Stimulation: Small bursts of electrical currents control pain and muscle spasms.
- Ultrasound Therapy: Gentle heat increases circulation and helps to reduce stiffness, swelling, and pain.
Current Risk Factors for Sciatica
As we age, the spine experiences years of wear and tear. The stress we frequently place on our spines over the years can impact our nerve health, posing a risk factor for sciatica.
Unfortunately, the largest risk factor for sciatica is one we can’t avoid: age.
Age-related changes in the spine, such as bone spurs or spinal stenosis, drastically increase the chances of developing sciatica symptoms. Occupation is also a large risk factor, as a job that requires frequent twisting of the back, carrying heavy loads, or driving a vehicle for a long period of time can play a role in sciatica. Likewise, those who sit for prolonged periods or have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica than active people are.
Additional risk factors for sciatica include obesity, which increases the stress on the spine and can contribute to spinal changes that can trigger sciatica, and diabetes, which increases your risk of nerve damage.
Prevention and Wellness
While our physicians can’t stop you from getting older, they can help you fight the signs of aging. Routine chiropractic adjustments keep the spine in good health, helping to offset the damage frequent sitting, bending, and lifting can place on the spine. They also allow your chiropractor to get familiar with your unique spinal properties, that way he or she can immediately notice when spinal changes such as bone spurs begin to take place.
Preventive care with chiropractic treatment ensures that your spine will remain in fighting shape to battle any sciatica symptoms that arise. Additionally, a chiropractor is an excellent source of diet and nutrition knowledge, lifestyle changes, as well as safe and effective fitness routines to get rid of sciatica pain. Routine visits with a chiropractor help to not only fight off obesity, but fight off the diseases and conditions that can come along with it. At ChiroCare of Florida, keeping your body in its best shape is our top concern, so sciatica won’t need to be one of yours.
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of sciatica, now is the time to get sciatic nerve pain relief. Contact ChiroCare of Florida to make your appointment today.