Have you ever experienced a pain that goes from your lower back or buttocks, through your hips and down one leg? If you answered yes, then you may have experienced sciatica.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest (almost finger width) nerve in the body. It’s made up of five nerve roots: two from the lower back region (lumbar spine) and three from the final section of the spine (sacrum). The five nerve roots come together to form the left and right sciatic nerve.
On each side of the body, one sciatic nerve runs behind the hips, through the buttocks and down the leg, ending just below the knee. The sciatic nerve then branches into other nerves, which continue down your leg into the foot and toes.
The term sciatica is typically used to describe any pain that starts in the lower back or buttocks and radiates down the leg. Typically, it affects only one side of the body.
The term sciatica is a description of this pattern of pain or weakness but it does not tell you what is causing the issue.
What are the symptoms of sciatica?
People describe sciatic pain differently. Some people describe the pain as sharp, shooting or jolts of pain, others describe the pain as aching, tingling, burning, electric or stabbing.
Sciatic nerve pain can be infrequent or constant and may worsen over time. It can be triggered for many reasons including exercise injuries, heavy lifting, excess weight or pregnancy. All of these could result in a misalignment of the spine that can create irritation for the sciatic nerve.
There are some clear symptoms of sciatica which include:
- Pain in leg and lower back or buttock that increases while sitting
- A throb or burning sensation that runs down the legs
- Restricted movement of feet or entire legs without pain
- Consistent pain on one side of your lower back
- Intense striking pain which makes it difficult to stand
- Weakness in the leg or foot with or without back pain.
What causes sciatica?
There are different reasons that someone may be experiencing sciatic pain. Common to all of them is irritation of the sciatic nerve. The source of the irritation can vary from person to person.
Think of the sciatic nerve as a hose and the irritation as anything that compresses, pulls, twists or deforms the hose. Since the hose starts in your spine, that is the most common area that irritation comes from. Another common cause of sciatic irritation is a deep buttock muscle, called the piriformis. In a certain percentage of people, the nerve runs through this muscle. If the piriformis is tight, then it may irritate the nerve.
Common to both of these causes are problems anywhere in your spine that are causing the lower back or buttocks to compensate. If your upper body rounds forward when you relax, this pulls on the upper part of the spine and effectively pulls on the sciatic nerve lower down. This means that the pain in your back and your leg could be the result of something going wrong much higher up in your body. This is why it is important to assess the structure of your whole body and not just focus on the site of pain.
What’s the solution?
Through understanding your medical history, performing a series of Chiropractic, neurological and orthopaedic tests, posture scans and (when necessary) X-ray imaging, your Chiropractor can examine reasons for your pain and present a non-surgical, medication-free solution.
Chiropractic adjustments can help to realign the spine and ease the pressure on the spine and muscles, releasing the nerve to reduce pain and allow the body to function better.
A Chiropractor may also give you advice on sitting, sleeping and standing habits and other lifestyle factors that can help you to avoid any future injury or unnecessary pain.
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