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5 Surprising Side Effects of Sciatica

Last Updated: August 25th, 2023 at 11:27 am
Read Time: 7 Minutes

If you're suffering from sciatica, you're likely accustomed to the pain, tingling, and numbness that accompany sciatic symptoms. Sciatica is the common name for lumbar radiculopathy, a collection of symptoms that occurs when the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed causing nerve pain.

While sciatica symptoms cause burning, tingling, shooting, and radiating back pain throughout the lower back and even down to the toes, it can also cause lesser-known side effects. Sciatica can be hard to recognize, and patients generally cannot diagnose themselves without a thorough evaluation from a physician. If you're experiencing symptoms, you may wonder, "Is it back pain or sciatica?"

Additionally, not only do you need to know what sciatica feels like and the symptoms that are trademark of the condition, but delving deeper into the causes of flare-ups, knowing how to manage pain, what causes sciatica initially, and the steps to take following a diagnosis.

First, let's look at the five main symptoms of sciatica to help recognize that you may have the condition. It's crucial to remember that not every person experiences every symptom and that symptoms may come and go periodically. If you're suffering from the symptoms below, you must seek medical care as soon as possible so you can begin the recovery and pain management process.

The 5 Main Symptoms of Sciatica

Below, you'll find a list noting how sciatica main can feel and other symptoms accompanying the condition.

1. Losing Balance

Sciatica commonly causes numbness and muscular weakness in the leg, calf, foot, and toes. While painful and bothersome to cope with, there is a hidden danger behind these symptoms, especially numbness. Numbness alters the body's proprioception, a medical term for the body's awareness of its position in space.

When proprioception is inhibited or altered, communication from the body to the brain is intercepted. This causes confusion for the brain, ultimately impacting our natural balance. Doing so can result in falls, ankle injuries, or other balance-related injuries.

2. Postural Distortion

When we experience chronic pain in a localized area, our body's natural reaction is to avoid placing pressure, twisting or bending, or using a certain body part. Often we manipulate our posture or our gait as a means of protecting the lower back or legs from pain. This habit is referred to as overprotective posture, and it can actually have a slew of adverse side effects.

While initially removing pressure from the site of sciatica symptoms radiate from can feel good, altering the body's natural alignment can actually alter the anatomical characteristics of the spine. This can result in back and neck pain, headaches, and fatigue. Postural distortion can also negatively impact digestion, organ function, and breathing patterns.

3. Declining Reflexes

Depending on where the sciatic nerve is compressed, pain and numbness can affect the lower leg and feet. In fact, sciatic nerve damage can cause an inability to flex the foot upwards, and also reduce the knee-jerk reflex.

This reflex also referred to as the patellar reflex, is the sudden kicking motion of the lower leg. The movement happens in response to a sharp tap on the patellar tendon, which lies just below the kneecap. Sciatica symptoms can numb this region, making it unresponsive to stimulus, thus hindering the reflex.

4. Difficulty with Certain Footwear

Just as compression of the sciatic nerve can inhibit the foot from flexing upwards, it can also numb the web between the big toe and the second toe, cause an inability to flex the big toe and make it difficult to raise the heel off the ground. This can cause problems with certain footwear.

For example, in flimsy footwear (which we've warned you about!) such as flip flops, numbness in the toes can make it difficult to properly lift the feet up and down, resulting in a painful shuffle. Likewise, footwear that places pressure on the heels, such as stilettos, can exacerbate pain in the legs, calves, and feet.

5. Loss of Bowel or Bladder Function

The cauda equina consists of 10 pairs of nerve roots, some of which combine to form the sciatic nerve. It is responsible for sensory and motor innervation to the pelvis and lower limbs and controls the bowel and bladder function. As with sciatica, the cauda equina nerve can be damaged by inflammation or compression in the lower back. When this occurs, a patient can lose the ability to retain or eliminate urine or stool.

While damage to the cauda equina is not a side effect of sciatica, it's important to take note. Symptoms of cauda equina damage can mirror sciatica, as it causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the lower back and legs. If you've been experiencing sciatic symptoms that are accompanied by bowel and/or bladder incontinence, it might be a sign of something more serious than sciatica and should be addressed immediately.

Are There Different Types of Sciatica?

Yes. Not all sciatic pain is the same, and there are four different types. These types include acute, chronic, alternating, and bilateral sciatica.

With acute sciatica, symptoms may only persist for a few weeks. It's caused by a sudden impact on the nerves. This impact can be a pinched or compressed nerve. You're most likely to notice burning or shooting pain through your back, hip pain, and worsening pain as you sit. Acute sciatica is generally easily treated and may or may not return in the future.

Chronic sciatica, on the other hand, does not resolve indefinitely. You may experience pain intermittently for many years and require ongoing treatment to manage the condition. This is more common in patients with underlying conditions, such as arthritis, prior injuries, and spinal subluxation. One of the best ways to manage this type of sciatica and to minimize flare-ups is often by making lifestyle changes.

Alternative sciatica is extremely rare but causes pain to alternate between legs. This condition's most common causes are damage to the sacroiliac joint or sacroiliac arthritis. You may notice that the pain is worse in one leg than the other.

Bilateral sciatica is the fourth type. Both legs are impacted, and this condition typically results from an underlying cause such as herniated discs or chronic disc degeneration.

What Causes Sciatica to Flare Up?

Pinched nerves, herniated discs, bone spurs, and rarely tumors can cause sciatica flare-ups. These are conditions that happen by accident, result from an injury, or result from other chronic conditions that put pressure on your nerves, such as diabetes.

Things like sitting for extended periods, being overweight, wearing improper shoes, or carrying heavy objects on your back (such as backpacks, purses, or job site materials), can also cause pain to arise.

If the cause of your pain is due to lifestyle factors, as opposed to medical conditions, addressing these factors can help relieve pain and keep it at bay. For medical issues, ongoing treatment from a chiropractor can help.

How to Relieve Sciatic Pain

There are several ways to help relieve sciatic pain. The first is by making lifestyle changes–improve your diet, lose weight, maintain proper posture, and ensure you're getting enough movement throughout the day. Try not to carry heavy objects regularly.

Additionally, over-the-counter pain medication can help. Ask your doctor or chiropractor what they recommend, and never start taking a new medication without first speaking with your physician.

Hot and cold therapy can help by either using heating pads or ice packs. Only apply for at most 20 minutes at a time. Gentle stretching of your lower back is also an excellent way to mitigate pain. A physical therapist at your chiropractor's office can guide you through a routine to continue at home.

Since many patients find that laying down worsens their sciatic pain, adjusting your position can help. Experts recommend sleeping on your side or back to minimize symptoms. You can support your body by using a pillow between your knees, the mattress, and your waist.

Chiropractors are also experts at all things relating to muscle, nerve, and bone issues. Seeking care from an experienced chiropractor can help relieve the pressure on your nerves to help minimize the pain. For acute sciatica, a few chiropractic sessions can make the pain disappear entirely. For more chronic sciatic pain, regular visits can help manage the pain and reduce the number of flare-ups.

Schedule an Appointment Today

There are many risk factors for sciatica symptoms, and it can put a damper on daily life. Fight back today with chiropractic therapy and care; a safe and effective method of eradicating sciatica symptoms - and side effects - naturally. For more information or to book an appointment with a trusted chiropractor, contact ChiroCare of Florida today.

If you're experiencing symptoms of the condition and aren't sure how to proceed, visit your physician or chiropractor. A series of chiropractic adjustments can help significantly. Our team of chiropractors will develop a customized treatment plan, and monitor your progress, and make changes as necessary for the best results. Don't live in pain any longer. Make an appointment today.

About the Author:
Dr. Steven Schwartz
Raised in Coral Springs, Florida, Dr. Steven Schwartz is a major advocate for the South Florida community. CEO of ChiroCare of Florida, Dr. Schwartz has grown the group from one facility to 11. Whether he’s treating patients or volunteering for community service, Dr. Schwartz’s long-term goal is to ensure that each and every patient can experience the ChiroCare of Florida difference.
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