What Is “Sciatica”?
We have all heard of the term “sciatica” and people often think they have it but do they really? “Sciatica” is often used when people experience pain, numbness or tingling down their leg. Your sciatic nerve is a nerve that originates from your lower back and travels down the back of each of your legs, down to your toes. It is the largest nerve in your entire body, usually about the circumference of your thumb. It serves to transmit messages from your brain and through your spinal cord to the many parts of your legs such as your joints and muscles, as well relay messages from those structures back to your brain.
Sciatica or Pinched Nerve?
When there is pressure or irritation anywhere along where the sciatic nerve travels and symptoms are experienced either in your buttock or your leg, this is when you have “sciatica”. This pressure or irritation oftentimes happens either in your lower back or your buttocks. There are also other causes of leg pain and numbness, which can include degenerated discs between your lower vertebrae, injured joints in your lower back as well as actual pinched nerves. Determining the source of your pain is important as that will dictate where treatment is delivered as well as the type of treatment you receive.
Signs and Symptoms
When you have sciatica, symptoms may include:
- numbness in your buttock or leg
- unable to sit comfortably
- balance problems
What Should I Do About It?
Treatment of sciatica often begins with a trial of conservative care with your chiropractor and includes several different components. These can include:
- chiropractic adjustments to improve the mechanics, movement and function of your lower spine, pelvis and hips – these adjustments also help to improve the function of your nervous system thereby helping improve your body’s ability to function and heal
- addressing any postural issues, such as avoiding having your wallet in your back pocket as this creates physical imbalances starting in your pelvis and eventually increasing the tension in your sciatic nerve
- stretching tight muscles which may be impacting your sciatic nerve (eg. piriformis)
- strengthening any resulting weakened muscles
- dietary supplementation
- avoiding movements which exacerbate your symptoms
- avoid prolonged sitting
- ensure your have proper desk and seating ergonomics
- using ice or heat when appropriate
- in rare cases where conservative care is not successful, surgery is sometimes considered
Most cases of sciatica respond well to conservative care (eg. chiropractic care, physiotherapy) when coupled with home exercises and ergonomic changes. Typically, cases that are more recent respond faster whereas more chronic cases take more time to resolve. Take note, however, that if you ever have what you think is sciatica but are also experiencing difficulty with urination or bowel movements, or have significant numbness around your pelvis, you may need to check into your local hospital emergency room as soon as you can as this may indicate a more serious condition. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to speak with your chiropractor or physiotherapist.
Results will of course vary from person to person