Have you ever had pain radiate from your low back, through your hips, and down one leg? If so, you may have experienced sciatica. What exactly is it, and what can you do to treat the pain? In this blog post, we will explore what you need to know plus offer some tips for relief.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve runs down the length of each leg, starting in your low back and ending at the heels of your feet. Sciatica is a term used to describe the pain caused by irritation of that nerve. Health professionals have a variety of names for it, including lumbosacral radicular syndrome, discogenic sciatica, nerve root pain, and nerve root entrapment, 1 but sciatica is the most common term.
Sciatica is different from low back pain in that it results from the sciatic nerve, rather than the spine. This nerve serves an important function, affecting the hamstrings, calf muscles, lower leg muscles, and some foot muscles.2 In many cases, the pain gets worse with twisting, bending, sneezing or coughing.2
What causes sciatic pain?
Researchers estimate that 90 per cent of cases are caused by a herniated disc where the nerve root is compressed – something that may occur as a result of an injury, or age-related wear and tear.5 Other possible causes include lumbar stenosis1, or piriformis syndrome.
What are the symptoms of sciatica?
Patients most often complain about pain radiating down the back of their leg, reducing their mobility.1, 2
Who is most at risk for sciatica?
More research is needed to determine the exact incidence and prevalence of sciatica. It is estimated that five to 10 per cent of patients with low back pain have it, 1 and 10 to 40 per cent of people experience it in their lifetime.2
There are certain risk factors that increase the chance of developing sciatica. These include: 1
- Mental stress
- Cigarette smoking
In addition, certain occupations are predisposed to sciatic nerve pain, including machine operators and truck drivers.2
How is sciatica diagnosed?
When a patient complains of pain radiating down their leg, a chiropractor will typically conduct a full history and physical examination to determine whether the sciatic nerve is to blame.1 Chiropractors often work as part of a patient’s health care team. If there are red flags present – such as if Cauda Equina syndrome is suspected – the chiropractor will recommend advanced imaging to determine if surgery should be considered.1
How is sciatica treated?
- Physical activity
- Spinal manipulation
What can you do at home?
Talk to your chiropractor to ensure you are doing everything you can to improve your condition at home. He or she may recommend one or more of the following: 2
- Use hot and cold packs for comfort
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods
- Practice good posture
- Improve your core strength through exercise
- Gently stretch out your lower back and hamstrings
- Take a walk regularly, go swimming, or try aqua fitness
- Use the proper technique when lifting heavy objects
How can you prevent sciatica?
You can reduce the chances of developing sciatica by exercising regularly and paying attention to your posture.3 Try the following exercises if you’re looking for inspiration, but the most important thing is to find an activity you enjoy: 4
- Strength training
- Tai Chi
1. Koes, B W et al. “Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 334,7607 (2007): 1313-7. doi:10.1136/bmj.39223.428495.BE
2. Davis D, Vasudevan A. Sciatica. [Updated 2019 Feb 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507908/
3. Gillot, Caroline. “Sciatica: Causes, Treatment, Exercises, and Symptoms.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 15 Dec. 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7619.php.
4. Harvard Health Publishing. “5 Tips for Coping with Sciatica.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/pain/sciatica-prevention-and-coping.
5. “Herniated Disc.” AANS, https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Herniated-Disc.
Chiropractors are spine, muscle, and nervous system experts who provide effective treatment to promote health, alleviate pain, and improve your quality of life. If you’re struggling with sciatica and want relief, visit a chiropractor today.