Our Fort Lauderdale Chiropractic office, unfortunately, sees several cases each week of people suffering from sciatic pain. Sciatic pain is characterized by radiating pain along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve originates in the lower (lumbar) spine and the tailbone (sacrum). Due to the large muscle groups that this nerve innervates, it is the largest nerve in your body. To give you a visual example, the nerve is approximately the size of your little finger. After leaving the spinal column, the sciatic nerve runs down your leg branching off to different organs and muscles from your hips to your toes.
For some people, sciatic pain can be severe and debilitating. While for others, the pain can be infrequent or rare with mild symptoms. Sciatic pain typically affects only one side of the body, but can, in some cases, affect both sides. Sciatic pain can also have a tendency to switch from one side to the other. Common symptoms of sciatica are: low back pain, pain in the back of a leg that gets worse with sitting, hip pain, burning or tingling sensation down a leg, constant pain on one side of the buttocks, shooting pain that makes it hard to stand on the leg, and weakness, numbness, or difficult time moving the leg. The mildest of cases will explain a constant aching pressure in the back of the leg with prolonged sitting. Something like this… “I can drive for about 30 minutes and then my leg is so achy.”
Regardless of severity or intensity, sciatic pain is not the type of condition that typically goes away on its own. Some people let the condition go untreated for too long and their only option is medication and/or surgery. However, there are definitely non-medical and non-surgical options available that are quite effective if addressed in a timely manner.
Chiropractic… can it help the pain in my butt?
Chiropractic is definitely a solution that people think of when they think of sciatic pain. Why? Because so many success stories come from treatment in this way. Sciatic pain is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. Chiropractors have been removing pressure from nerves for over 125 years. We know a thing or two about how to handle this.
Sciatic pain can be originated from two main sources. It will either be from pressure on a nerve root coming from the spine itself or from a spasm of the piriformis muscle (which is located deep in your glutes). Because it is more common to diagnose the cause of the sciatic pain as coming from a bone out of its normal position putting pressure on a nerve root, nerves that come out of there do not just go to muscles causing the pain, they also go to vital organs. Due to the pressure on the nerve roots, it is common to find that people suffer from other symptoms, dysfunctions, and disease processes in addition to the pain. More times than not, people do not make the correlation between organs not functioning correctly and the secondary pain we feel. They are, however, connected in most cases.
At Dynamic Chiropractic we begin with a detailed consultation to have a starting point for further examinations and testing in (and outside of) the office. If, during the consultation, we determine that our office might be able to help we continue with a thorough examination. Since the sciatic nerve is exited from your low back and the bones of your low back (lumbar spine) are designed to completely encapsulate and protect the nerves that exit the spine, it is vital at this point to find out if your discomfort is caused by a bone, muscle, or something even more serious. This information is very important in deciding if Dynamic Chiropractic is the right place for you and if we can help or not. During the examination, we will palpate or feel the movement of your spine. This removes the muscle involvement and allows us to specifically see how the bones move in relation to the ones above and below. Then we perform a range of motion test. This will actively use the muscles of the low back to see if there are any limitations. A posture evaluation will allow us to visually see if there are any potential global misalignments within the spine that are distorting your general posture (one hip higher than the other… torso leaning to one side… one leg longer than the other… etc.). Finally, an X-Ray series is completed to objectively see and measure the abnormal alignment of the spine. We all know that you can look relatively fine on the outside and be very sick on the inside. That is precisely why a picture is worth a thousand words at this point. If we find that we can help you with your sciatic pain, in addition to spinal adjustments to realign the spine, we will give you functional exercises and specific stretches relative to your individual needs to help work with the musculoskeletal component as we are moving the bones. Additionally, we will give you specific home instruction to reduce the inflamed area and facilitate healing faster. If within a few days of specific treatment we are not experiencing a reduction of the swelling in the area or the pain, we will refer you to the appropriate physician to get the medications necessary to reduce the inflammation so that Chiropractic can work better to fix the underlying problem. We find that this “adjust it from all angles” approach seems to yield the best results the quickest.
5 common causes of sciatic pain:
Lumbar spinal stenosis
Again… you have heard me say this before. Arthritis is the most loosely used and most misunderstood condition surrounding low back pain. There is no scientific evidence that arthritis is genetic. However, it can 100% be habitual. There are many different types of arthritis that are potential for the spine. I am sure you have heard of some of them: osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis (to just name a few). Different names for arthritis explain two things: where the arthritis is located and the characteristics of what the excess bone growth is doing to the surrounding tissue. Osteoarthritis is associated with degeneration of the discs and excess bone growth on the larger boney structure of the spine called the vertebral bodies. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the canal (or hole) that either the spinal cord or the nerve root travels through.
I would like to break down the process of how arthritis comes about to empower you to stop it if you in fact have it… or… take control of your spinal health to prevent it from happening in the first place. When bones of the spine are misaligned and not functioning properly the body perceives that as an unstable situation. The only way that the body knows how to create stability within a joint is to calcify connecting tissues and create more bone in the area. That excess bone growth is defined as arthritis. How do you stop it? Go to a chiropractor who can help realign the bone structure to a more “normal” position so that the bone growth slows down or stops. How do you prevent excess bone growth in the first place? Go to a chiropractor who can help realign the bone structure to a more “normal” position so that the bone growth is limited or never happens. Of course, many people opt for waiting and procrastinating to the point when the only option is risky surgery. That does not have to be your only option if you catch it early enough. Just don’t ignore the early signs.
Degenerative disc disease
This is what I have found to be the silent cause for sciatic pain. Over the years there is trauma, muscle pulls, bad posture, unsupportive beds, and of course the sports we played “back in the day”. All of that over time results in wear and tear that goes unnoticed because if there is any pain it is short-lived or easily treated with a Tylenol. Prevention and routine chiropractic checkups are so vital when it comes to degenerative conditions. The sooner you see and address a degenerative condition the easier it is to stop further damage. Don’t be a victim… get a checkup.
Boy… that is a mouth full. This is a condition whereby a bone in the spine (vertebrae) slips forward or backward putting a shearing pressure on the nerve roots or the spinal column directly. This condition is due to ligamentous instability bone to bone. This condition can be a wear and tear injury. However, it is most commonly derived from a blunt force injury like a car accident or a fall.
Not all Chiropractors adjust pregnant women. We do!! The majority of the new patients that we have who are pregnant come to us in their third trimester as the baby becomes larger and things shift around quite a bit and the pressure increases around the sciatic nerve.
This type of muscle spasm as a diagnosis for sciatic pain is rare in our office. Even though pressure points on this specific muscle can help alleviate the intensity of the pain (because the nerve runs through this muscle) we do not usually find that the muscle alone is the culprit. However, that isn’t to say that it worth ruling it out. A simple x-ray will let us see if it is a bone problem or a muscle problem. Additionally, if it is a muscle problem the symptoms will go away after 7-10 days. However, sciatic pain is usually chronic in nature.
5 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Sciatic Pain
1. How do I relieve sciatic pain?
A basic stretch that helps most people temporarily relieve sciatic pain is to sit in a supportive chair where your hips and knees are at 90 degree angles. Place one ankle on the opposite knee sitting in a “gentleman’s crossing of the leg” position. With no pushing or pulling of the bent leg (no extra pressure needed on the knee or hips) put up straight and tall with your chest out and buttocks back. The more you arch the more you feel the stretch. Again… this is a temporary stretch but still effective.
2. How long will it take for the sciatic pain to stop?
Sciatic pain can be of acute or quick onset or a more chronic problem. An acute episode could last for a few days to a few weeks. After that time, the pain will subside or go away. Many people start this way and then the episodes become more frequent and last longer making their condition more of a chronic situation. Regardless of your experience… always remember that pain is the body’s red flag system to let you know that there is a problem that needs your attention. Just because the pain goes away does not always mean that the problem is gone too.
3. Is there any over-the-counter medications that I can take to make the pain go away?
There are some over-the-counter medications that will ease up the pain and allow you to be able to function better while you are going through the healing process. The best forms of pain medications over the counter that are sometimes helpful are anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
4. What should I avoid if I have sciatic pain?
Generally speaking having a good healthy well-balanced diet that limits foods that are known to cause inflammation such as simple sugars, complex carbohydrates, and processed or high-fat foods. Also maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise are always a good rule of thumb to maintaining optimal health. Again, these are not 100% foolproof; however, they will decrease your chances of regular chronic ailments.
5. Why does sitting make my sciatic pain worse?
Sitting in one position for a prolonged period of time puts pressure on the sciatic nerve directly under the glutes. This pressure, most of the time, increases an already irritated area causing additional flare-ups. Standing, stretching, and walking periodically will reduce the intensity and frequency of sciatic pain.
In conclusion, years of wear and tear, repetitive constant positions, and environmental contributions are usually the cause and/or irritant for sciatic pain. Therefore, the good news is that if you do not ignore the “red flag” from your body that there is a problem, there is quite a bit of self-control in your situation that you have. Bottom line, early detection and correction along with dietary, lifestyle, and habitual changes can really make all the difference in the world for your sciatic pain. That is all within your control. Obviously, if your condition is ignored or covered up with pain medications, the underlying problem will only get worse and will most likely lead to a chronic degenerative condition that will need a much more invasive solution in the years to come. The sooner you diagnose the real problem and treat it… the sooner and more positive the outcome. Famous last words in a Chiropractic office… I thought it would just go away on its own, but it keeps coming back worse every time. Call Dynamic Chiropractic… a simple x-ray could save you weeks, months or even years of suffering.