Sciatica is often the cause of lower back pain
Sciatica is a common symptom of lower back pain. The shooting pain felt with sciatica plagues thousands of Americans each day. The pain can be very intense and make standing or sitting feel unbearable. The first step to overcoming sciatica is to understand the pain itself and the causes. Here at A Family Chiropractic Clinic we treat many cases of sciatica. Part of our treatment plan includes helping our patients understand their pain.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a symptom of pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back. This nerve branches and runs down the back of each of your legs. People who experience sciatica often feel lower back pain and shooting pain down at least one leg. The pain can come on quickly or it can build gradually. Many people describe the pain and symptoms associated with sciatica as being one or more of the following:
- Bad leg cramp
- Inability to bend knee
- Inability to move foot
Many people experience worsening pain when they sit or stand. It’s also common for the pain to increase in intensity if you sneeze or cough.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is caused when pressure is placed on the sciatic nerve. It can also be caused if the nerve has become pinched either inside or outside of the spinal canal. There are many different issues that can lead to sciatica including:
- Herniated Disc
- Slipped Disc
- Spinal Stenosis
- Piriformis Syndrome
The most common of these causes are a herniated or slipped disc. In both scenarios, significant pressure is placed on the sciatic nerve. Spinal stenosis is a condition that is caused by the narrowing of your spinal canal. This can also place excess pressure on the sciatic nerve and result in sciatica. Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of your vertebras is out of alignment to the extent of narrowing the nerve pathway. And piriformis syndrome occurs when your piriformis muscle spasms or becomes too tight. All of these causes can lead to pressure on the sciatic nerve.
If you are experiencing back pain in conjunction with leg pain then you will want to set up an appointment with your doctor or your chiropractor. They will begin by collecting your medical history and asking about your symptoms before doing a physical exam. During the exam, your health care provider may conduct additional tests including:
- Straight-leg-raise test
- CT Scan
- Nerve conduction velocity studies
The straight-leg-raise test is the most basic way of diagnosing sciatica. You’ll be asked to rest on your back with your legs straight. Your doctor or chiropractor will then raise each leg slowly to see when the pain begins. This helps them determine which nerves may be causing the pain or if there’s a problem with your spine. The other diagnostic tests will help check for fractures, nerve function, and disc placement. Your health care provider may not use any of these, or they may use them all depending on the severity of your symptoms.
There are many treatment methods available for treating sciatica. The most common treatment options involve chiropractic care or physical therapy. If needed, you may be prescribed medication to help treat any pain and inflammation. Medications should only be used as needed. It’s not uncommon for people who use medications as part of their treatment plan to over exert themselves once the medications ease the symptoms. This can actually worsen the condition so medications must be used very cautiously.
Using chiropractic care and physical therapy as treatment options have the goal of reducing pressure on your sciatic nerve. Chiropractic adjustments can help correct alignment issues that may be putting pressure on the nerve. Physical therapy helps improve flexibility of tight muscles and strengthens weak muscles to provide better support for your spine.
In severe cases of sciatica your health care provider may recommend anti-inflammatory injections into your lower back. This can help reduce swelling more quickly and relieve pressure on the nerve. For those who don’t respond well to other treatments then surgery may be an option. Surgical options include:
Both of these options should only be used in the most extreme circumstances. During a microdiscectomy portions of a herniated disc are removed in an effort to relive pressure and pain. A laminectomy involves removing the bone and tissue that are causing pressure around your spinal cord. Both of these options should only be used as a last resort to other treatment options.
It isn’t always possible to prevent sciatica from developing. In cases involving degenerative disc disease, pregnancy, and injuries then prevention is more difficult. However, you can reduce your risk of developing sciatica from developing through these small changes:
- Practice good posture during everyday activities
- Practice proper lifting and exercise techniques
- Exercise regularly to maintain strong back and abdomen muscles
- Avoid or stop smoking cigarettes
- Avoid sitting for extended periods of time
Practicing good posture is one of the things that almost everyone can improve upon. Good posture helps relieve pressure on your spine and sciatic nerve. It also helps keep your spine in alignment and your muscles strong.