If you are experiencing pain, numbness or tingling in the back of your leg, bottom, or your foot and toes, then it may be sciatica, a condition we treat regularly at Chiropractic Care Clinics. This article is designed to tell you more about what sciatica is and how it can be treated.
What is sciatica?
Put simply, Sciatica is pain along the path of the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from your lower back through to your hips and buttock and down the back of your leg. Facts about Sciatica from the National Institute of Healthcare and Care Excellence:
- Between 13–40% of people will experience sciatica at some point during their lifetime
- The proportion of people diagnosed with sciatica over a year ranges from 2–34%
- Sciatica is rarely seen in people aged under 20 years
Where is the sciatic nerve?
The sciatic nerve runs through your hip, buttock and down your leg, to just below your knee. It then branches into other nerves, continuing down the leg and into your foot and toes. You have one sciatic nerve on either side, and they are the longest and thickest (almost finger-width) nerves in the body.
The sciatic nerve is made up of five nerve roots: two from the lower back region, and three from the final section of your spine (the sacrum).
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica most often occurs when a herniated disk or an overgrowth of bone puts pressure on part of the nerve. The bones that make up your spine, called vertebrae, are separated and cushioned by flat, flexible, round discs of connective tissue. If a disc gets worn down, perhaps from injury or simply from years of use, the soft centre can begin to push out from the hard outer ring. This then puts pressure on the nerves around it, causing pain and discomfort. The back, however, is not the only place that the sciatic nerve can get trapped, it is also common for irritation to occur
and it winds its way past or through the muscles in your buttock: this is called ‘deep gluteal syndrome’ – just for good measure, it is also possible to have your sciatic nerve trapped or irritated in more than one place, a ‘double crush’ injury This is why it is so important to get an accurate and specific diagnosis before starting treatment: sciatica is not a disease, it is a symptom the cause of which needs to be determined by a specialist clinician, such as a chiropractor.
What are the risk factors for sciatica?
Risk factors for sciatica include:
- Age: The most common causes of sciatica are age-related changes in the spine, such as herniated disks and bone spurs
- Obesity: There is greater stress on the spine if you are overweight.
- Occupation: If your job involves twisting your back, carrying heavy loads or driving a motor vehicle for a long period of time, this might lead to sciatica.
- Prolonged sitting: People who are sedentary and spend a lot of time sitting down are more likely to develop sciatica than active people. Read more about the risks of being sedentary.
- Diabetes: If you are diabetic, you have a higher risk of nerve damage.
What does sciatica feel like?
Pain caused by sciatica can present in many different ways. Some people experience sharp, shooting, or jolts of pain. Others may experience burning, electric or stabbing pain.
The pain is usually more severe in the leg than the lower back. This pain may come and go, or be constant, and it may feel worse if you sit or stand for long periods of time or if you make a forced and sudden body movement, like a cough or sneeze.
How is sciatica treated?
Your GP may suggest exercises and stretches, and prescribe painkillers. They can also refer you for physiotherapy and psychological support for pain management, however waiting times can be long on the NHS. A chiropractor is a good option to get help more quickly.
Sciatica usually gets better in 4 to 6 weeks, but can sometimes last longer. The NHS suggests the following to help speed up your recovery:
- Carry on with your normal activities as much as possible
- Perform regular sciatica exercises
- Start gentle exercise, such was walking, as soon as you can
- Hold cold packs on the painful areas, avoiding direct contact with the skin.
- Ask your pharmacist about painkillers (paracetamol is unlikely to help and it’s unclear how much NSAIDs help)
- If you sleep on your side, try a small, firm cushion between your knees, or several firm pillows underneath your knees if you sleep on your back
Even if moving hurts, it’s not harmful and can help you recover faster, so try not to sit or lie down for long periods.
Benefits of seeing a chiropractor for sciatica
Due to our holistic approach to health, seeing a chiropractor is a great way of getting help with your sciatica.
As registered medical professionals, we run a thorough assessment to determine what is causing your sciatica and advise how to treat it. We always look at getting to the root of the problem – your sciatica could have many causes – and there are other conditions that can mimic sciatica .
We can then tailor a treatment plan to your individual needs, involving a range of techniques. These could include manipulation, soft tissue therapy, mobilisation and exercise advice to help speed up your recovery and, more importantly, lower the chances of sciatica recurring.
When is sciatica dangerous?
There are some instances when symptoms of sciatica can be something more serious. The NHS advises to call 999 or go to A&E if you:
- Have sciatica in both legs
- Have weakness or numbness in both legs that’s severe or getting worse
- Have numbness around or under your genitals, or around your anus
- Find it hard to urinate, cannot urinate, or cannot control your urination (if this is not normal for you)
- Do not notice when you need to poo or cannot control when you poo (if this is not normal for you)
These could be symptoms of a serious back problem that needs to be treated as soon as possible.
How can Chiropractic Care Clinics help?
For more than 30 years, we have been helping clients feel better, including many with sciatica. We offer a range of services in addition to chiropractic including counselling and remedial massage from our clinics in Yeovil, Crewkerne and Beaminster. We want to help keep your health on track and enhance your life.
Contact us If you’re suffering from sciatica, or would like a diagnosis, feel free to contact us. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help