Sciatica is the inflammation of the largest and longest nerves in the body. Up to 40% of the population experience this pain at some point in their lives.
What is the sciatica nerve? It first branches from the nerve roots that descend off the lowest part of the spinal cord and is about as wide as a thumb. Each of the two branches threads through the pelvis and deep into either side of the buttocks and passes down the hip, along the back of the thigh to the foot.
What symptoms are associated with sciatica? The sensation of sciatica can vary widely, from a mild tingling to burning pain in the low back, hips and legs. It may feel like a dull ache or numbness. For some, sciatica can be positively brutal, with excruciating pain radiating through the hip and down the leg into the foot and toes. Sitting for long periods and driving can increase the pain, and even sleeping and walking become difficult and painful. Twisting activities such as golf or tennis have a tendency to cause a flare-up in sciatica pain.
What causes this nerve inflammation and pain? Simply stated, the nerve is pinched (impinged), becoming irritated, inflamed and hence, painful. The most common reason for this is a “bulging” disc pressing on the nerve root. The disc is the pad between the vertebra. The disc may bulge to one side resulting in what is frequently called a “slipped disc”, although “herniated disc” is a better way of describing this condition. Degeneration or arthritis of the spine can also irritate the sciatic nerve. Trauma from falls, car wrecks, sports injuries and other accidents may also result in sciatica. Some experts believe that one cause of sciatic pain is the entrapment of the sciatic nerve deep in the buttocks by the piriformis muscle-usually after an injury.
How is sciatica generally treated? The medical approach to treatment varies. It may include using pain-killers, muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatory drugs. Traction, physical therapy or spinal injections may be used. In severe cases, surgery may be suggested. Note the success of back surgery varies. Pain returns within one year to approximately 50% of the patients that undergo back surgery.
How effective is chiropractic treatment of sciatica? The fact is, chiropractic has about a 90% patient satisfaction rate. Gentle, safe, spinal manipulations-possibly in combination with other non-invasive treatments, have proven very successful in treating sciatica. Chiropractic should be your first choice of a conservative treatment method. And there are no undesirable side effects from the use of drugs and potential complications from surgery. Remember, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible for symptoms associated with sciatica. Needless to say, in the most severe cases, where we find a spinal fracture or some type of pathology such as a tumor, we will immediately refer you to the appropriate specialist.