Sciatic nerves can cause major discomfort and pain if they are left untreated. Many people avoid being seen for this pain because they think their only treatment option requires invasive pharmaceuticals.
Did you know that your chiropractor can help with your sciatic nerve pain—without just giving you a pill for the pain? But first, let’s review what exactly sciatica is.
What is Sciatica and the Sciatic Nerve?
Before we go on, it’s important to clarify how pain is processed in the body. Pain involves nerve stimulation at a particular point. From there, the pain travels all the way through the end of the nerve.
The sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body, has four branches that all come out of your lower back. The two upper branches join into one branch that stops behind the knee, while the lowest two extend all the way down the foot.
People often think that upper butt pain is sciatica, but it’s likely not the sciatic nerve at that point. Likely, it’s more of a piriformis issue or rotated hips. If your muscles get tight and irritated, that can cause some of these problems. That being said, the piriformis muscle could be responsible for causing the sciatic nerve issue.
Sciatic nerve pain doesn’t have to be caused by bone on the nerve, although often it is. Sometimes it’s a lumbar disc pressing on the nerve. Other times, it could be a muscle—like the pyriformis—that is tight and puts pressure on that nerve.
You are likely facing sciatica when the pain radiates down your leg. That pain sensation goes down the leg all the way through to where the nerve ends.
Sciatica is likely the most common condition seen at Smerglia Chiropractic. Almost half of our patients come in with sciatic nerve pain. Part of why the prevalence is so high is that almost anything can trigger sciatic nerve pain, from sitting at a desk for too long all the way through constantly bending, lifting, and twisting your hips at an active job.
What Happens If Sciatic Nerve Pain Is Left Untreated?
In the short term, the effects of sciatica are more centered around discomfort. The acute issue involves the nerves being flared up, leaving the individual with no options for a pain-free position. For people with sciatica, walking might hurt, standing might hurt, sitting might hurt, and so on, but nothing is damaged yet.
Long-term sciatica often feels less severe but can be more damaging because of the sustained pressure on the nerve—and what’s potentially causing it. For example, a herniation could put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing pain. Usually, there are other issues at play simultaneously, such as severe degeneration on the disc putting pressure on the nerve.
Pressure from discs tends to be more damaging than pressure from an inflamed muscle. The pressure is different and can cause more intense long-term issues. If a nerve is irritated for a long period of time, the nerve can get killed—and won’t be likely to regenerate. This sort of damage is not reversible. For that reason, it is best to see a professional about your sciatica sooner rather than later.
What is the Typical Treatment for Sciatic Nerve Issues?
Chiropractic care is a strong starting point for characterizing sciatic nerve issues and starting to significantly relieve the pain.
If the cause of the nerve pain is a tight muscle that is putting pressure on the nerve—such as the piriformis muscle mentioned earlier—then chiropractic adjustments and other related treatments can provide significant relief.
The relief chiropractic care can provide for sciatica can be increased when leveraged alongside treatments like acupuncture, massage, and cold therapy. Together, these can help promote the release of the tension that is causing pressure on the nerve, and gradually resolve the source of the pain.
If the cause of sciatica is something more critical, like a herniated disc that is putting pressure on a nerve, surgery will likely be required.
What Can Chiropractors Do for Sciatica Sufferers?
The answer to this question is, “plenty!”
First off, Smerglia Chiropractic can help you find your diagnosis.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
The very first step of working together on any health problem is to gather a medical history so that we can understand what your body has experienced.
From there, we walk through the specific symptoms that are associated with your pain, including how long you have experienced them, where exactly you are feeling the pain, and what makes it worse or better.
You can expect a physical exam that keeps a close eye on how you move around. Much of this physical exam relies on watching how you walk, because the spine is so critical to an individual’s gait, and you may be asked to walk in different ways to test the strength of different muscles in your legs.
Next up, you will likely lie on your back and slowly raise each leg until the pain starts. This simple test can shed light on which particular nerves are associated with your pain and can help to clarify whether a disk might be involved with your pain. Remember, disk issues are most likely to have long-term consequences, and so they are the priority to identify and treat first.
Based on this physical exam, your chiropractor should have some ideas as to what sorts of tests are required next. If the disk or other bone issues are suspected and leading to a pinched sciatic nerve, diagnostic imaging will likely come next in the form of x-rays, MRIs, or even CT scans. In fact, MRIs are the most common test used to confirm sciatica. Nerve conduction tests can be used to see how well the sciatic nerve is functioning and then help determine the severity of sciatica.
What adjustments are used for sciatica?
Your chiropractor will work directly with you to identify when a spinal adjustment is appropriate as opposed to a different treatment path.
Spinal manipulations are often used in cases where a herniated disc is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. The goal of these manipulations is to better align the spine in the body so that pressure is lifted off the sciatic nerve. Usually, this makes spinal movement easier and can help contribute to the positive placement of spinal discs.
The extent of manipulation will vary according to each individual situation; sometimes, a more forceful thrust is needed, whereas other times, gentle pressure can suffice. Such spinal manipulation can also help ease tense or spasming muscles.
Other treatment modalities can be used alongside spinal manipulations. Cold therapy is particularly popular since it is another minimally invasive therapy that can provide high relief. With cold therapy, an individual’s blood flow is substantially slowed down; this, in turn, reduces the symptoms of inflammation. Often, cold therapy is used in conjunction with heat therapy, which can offer relief for any tense muscles.
While cold therapy might be in our future as another offering on our list, we currently use Cox Flexion Distraction to slowly stretch out the lower spine. This can help directly relieve the pressure on the nerve, reducing the disc bulge that’s putting pressure on the nerve, and can mimic many of the anti-inflammatory effects of other modalities.
We also use an ultrasound unit that pumps vibrations into the body and gets rid of any stagnant fluid build-up in the area. We often see cases where, in parallel to whatever else is going on, there is a pocket of fluid building up and putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. Using ultrasound, we can pump the fluid out, remove the pressure off that nerve, and help.
Yet another treatment option is acupuncture, where needles are placed at key points to release tight muscles and stimulate nerves. Time and again, peer-reviewed publications feature studies where acupuncture can offer pain relief without the use of prescription pain medications. In fact, sciatica is one of the indications for which such relief was shown. Given the likelihood for prescription painkiller abuse as well as the potential risk for side effects, a minimally invasive option like acupuncture is extremely beneficial. And when used in conjunction with some of the other treatments mentioned above, long-term pain relief may be possible.
We offer massage, rapid-release technology (RRT), and muscle stimulation – all of which help relieve the tension contributing to sciatica and the pain resulting from it. As a chiropractor, we take a holistic view of not just your health history, but also of your treatment. We cannot rely on one treatment modality to provide all the relief; instead, we do multiple different things that each help in a small, different way—which adds up quickly.
How Can Smerglia Chiropractic Help You?
If sciatica is caught early, we often can help quickly provide relief and healing. If the sciatic nerve pain has been there for a long time or if an individual has a lot of degenerative arthritis, treatment can become a bit more complicated; we can still look and help, but sometimes this can take more than just a couple of visits. For most cases that walk into our office, we can relieve the sciatic pain very quickly.
Each person’s body and history are different, and so there is no substitute for 1-on-1 personalized care. Our chiropractic staff is on-hand to use their years of experience and a holistic healthcare approach to identify the source of your challenges. We work together with you to develop a treatment plan that fits your specific situation.
If you are struggling to find relief from sciatic nerve pain, other pain, or any other physical ailments, contact us today.