Sciatica Experts

The term sciatica is used to describe any type of pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down into the leg. This pain stemming from the nerves is typically the result of irritation, inflammation, pinching or compression of the nerve most commonly in the lower back.

Sciatica Experts

The term sciatica is used to describe any type of pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down into the leg. This pain stemming from the nerves is typically the result of irritation, inflammation, pinching or compression of the nerve most commonly in the lower back.

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the result of an injury or irritation of the sciatic nerve that originates in the gluteal/buttock area, causing nerve pain. The sciatic nerve is no joke, it is the thickest and longest nerve in the human body. According to Cleveland Clinic, the sciatic nerve is made up of five different nerve roots, two that originate from the lower back area (lumbar spine) and three that come from the sacrum.

These connecting areas of the nerve form both a right and left side sciatic nerve, which runs through the buttocks, hips, and legs on both sides of the body. Once the sciatic nerve reaches the knee, it branches into other nerves that run down the leg and into the foot / toes.

Patients with sciatica often report varying levels of pain (mild to severe) that can occur anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve. With the sciatic nerve being so large and having many different connections this can result in pain anywhere from the lower back down through the legs. Another effect of this condition is numbness, tingling, and pins / needles sensation that can be felt in the leg, foot and toes.

The term sciatica is used to describe any type of pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down into the leg. This pain stemming from the nerves is typically the result of irritation, inflammation, pinching or compression of the nerve most commonly in the lower back.

Injury to the sciatic nerve itself is very rare, in almost all cases it is other issues that are causing patients to feel nerve pain. 

What Does Sciatica Feel Like?

The symptoms of sciatica can be felt anywhere along the path of the sciatic nerve and connected nerves, from the lower back all the way down to the feet.

Spine Health data suggests that the most common features of pain are:

  • Pain: constant burning sensation or shooting pain that originates in the buttock or lower back. This sensation radiates down the front or back of the thigh, leg, and feet.
  • Numbness: numbness, tingling, and weakness are often felt in the back of the leg.
  • Postural Symptoms: May people find that the symptoms often feel worse when trying to stand up, sitting, bending the spine forward, twisting, laying down on the spine, and while coughing. 
  • One Sided Symptoms: Usually, only one leg is affected at a time. In rare cases, both legs may be affected at the same time.

How Common Is Sciatica?

The symptoms of sciatica are a very common complaint by patients,  almost 40% of people living in the United States encounter this issue sometime during their life.

What Are The Risk Factors For Sciatica?

According to the National Library of Medicine, it is estimated that 5%-10% of patients who experience low back pain actually have sciatica.

Some of the most common things that put people at a higher risk for developing symptoms include:

  • Normal Wear And Tear: As people age, there is a natural decrease in bone tissue and discs in the spine. These normal changes increase the chances of shifts in the discs, ligaments, and bones that can cause sciatic pain. 
  • Overweight: The more strain that is put on the spine through the day due to excess weight can lead to back issues that trigger sciatic nerve pain. 
  • New / Previous Injury: Having an injury to the lower back or spine in general has shown to increase risk.
  • Smoking Tobacco: Nicotine that is found in tobacco is known to cause spinal issues, including weakened bones, wearing down of vertebral discs and damaging spinal tissue.
  • Active / Physical Job: Work that requires you to do heavy lifting often increases chance of spinal problems over time
  • Desk Job: Jobs, such as standard office work, often involve prolonged sitting which can lead to increased chance of lower back problems. 
  • Weak Core Strength: The only support that your body has for the lower spine is the surrounding muscles. These are what is known as the “core”, the more core strength a person has equals to more support and safety for the lower back. 
  • Diabetic: Diabetes is known to increase a person’s chance of nerve damage.
  • Osteoarthritis: Over time, the effects of OA can weaken the spine which increases the nerves risk of injury.

What Causes Sciatica?

There are a handful of medical conditions that can cause pain in the sciatic nerves, some of the most common medical conditions based on data from Cleveland Clinic include:

  • Spinal Stenosis, which is the narrowing that occurs in the spinal canal, which reduces the available room for spinal cord and nerves – causing pinching and compression.

  • Having a herniated or slipped disc is the most common cause of sciatica, due to pressure that is put on the sciatic nerve roots. The discs act as cushioning between the spine and vertebra, but pressure can cause the gel like center of the disc to break through the outer wall and press on the sciatic nerve.

  • Spondylolisthesis can also cause sciatica, which is the slipping of a vertebra, that cause it to be out of line with the one below and above it. This narrows the pathway for the nerve and can cause pinching.

  • Degenerative disc disease caused from natural wear and tear causes shortening of the disc height. This condition often leads to spinal stenosis, which as previously mentioned causes compression and pinching.

  • Tumors that are present along the canal of the lumbar spine can also cause sciatica.

  • Osteoarthritis can over time leave the ends of bones jagged and mis-shaped (bone spurs), which can cause sciatica.

  • Piriformis syndrome is a result of the piriformis muscle in the back becoming tight or spasming. Although uncommon, this extra pressure can lead to sciatica.

When To See A Doctor

In most cases, mild sciatica will go away on its own over time using methods such as stretching at home, finding comfortable positions to sit / lay in and remaining active without increasing pain points. 

If symptoms are lasting, or you have sudden strong pain, numbness, or weak muscles in your back or leg you should immediately contact your healthcare provider. 

Treatment For Sciatica

In many cases, the condition can heal itself over time with rest, typically within a few weeks. 

Depending on the individual, sciatica pain may not improve with rest, and help from a healthcare provider is necessary to reduce pain.

When seeing a healthcare provider for sciatica pain, muscle relaxants may be prescribed that will help relieve discomfort. They may also recommend prescription pain medications depending on the level of pain that the patient is experiencing. 

At South Pointe Healthcare, we like to take a non-medication approach first. We are integrated with an in-house physical rehabilitation team that has experience using non-medication therapies to help patients relieve sciatica. 

Our chiropractic care team has had much success using chiropractic manipulation therapy to take pressure off of the sciatic nerve and ease pain symptoms. This treatment approach often includes medical massage to loosen up the muscles combined with physical therapy to address the root cause of the problem. 

If physical therapy is recommended for a patient, the goal is to use exercise movements to reduce weakness in the core and decrease pressure on the nerve. Our professional physical therapists will often use an exercise program that utilizes stretching and aerobic exercises to strengthen the muscles on the abdomen, back, and legs. 

Surgery for sciatica is rare, and only recommended for extreme cases where patients have loss of bowel or loss of bladder function. These symptoms are the result of a very rare condition called “cauda equina syndrome”. Surgery may also be recommended if severe pain and leg weakness is persistent and non-surgical sciatica treatment is no longer effective.

The need for surgery is very rare, and the vast majority of the patients that we see for sciatica at South Pointe Healthcare have their symptoms relieved with a combination of medication, manual therapies such as chiropractic care, and physical therapy.

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