Sciatica 101!

Sciatica 101!

woman holding back on jog route

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is one of the most misdiagnosed and over-diagnosed conditions that we see at Living Health Integrative Medicine. Patients are continuously coming in. First, we must understand what sciatica is before we can understand how to treat and prevent the condition.

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. It originates in the lumbar spine from the L4-S3 nerve roots and travels through the buttocks down the posterior aspect of the thigh and into the calf and foot (see image).

Sciatica 101!

Sciatica is a term used to describe irritation to the sciatic nerve, which usually causes symptoms of leg pain that originates in the low back and travels down the buttocks, posterior thigh, and even into the lower leg and foot. These symptoms are usually one sided (rarely does it travel down both legs) and consist of intense pain in the low back and down the leg. Symptoms may also include numbness, tingling, and weakness in those same areas. To clarify, sciatica is not simply low back pain and is not just pain that travels into the groin, or the front of the thigh.

Causes of Sciatica

Now that we understand what sciatica is, what causes it? There are several ways the sciatic nerve can be irritated. Below are the most common causes of sciatica that I usually see in our office:

  • Lumbar Disc Herniation:

A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner core of the disc leaks out, or herniates, through the fibrous outer core and irritates the corresponding spinal nerves. Other common names include slipped disc, ruptured disc, protruding disc, or bulging disc.

  • Degenerative Disc Disease:

Also know as DDD, this occurs when the spine is out of proper alignment, causing decreased motion of the joints of the spine and the discs. Since the disc does not have a blood supply, it absorbs its nutrients through movement. A misaligned spine causes decreased range of motion and decreased nutrient absorption, which leads to deterioration within the discs. The deterioration may lead to a decreased space for the exiting spinal nerve, causing irritation.

  • Piriformis Syndrome:

One of the muscles the sciatic nerve encounters in the buttocks is a small muscle called the piriformis. The sciatic nerve will take one of 3 paths around the piriformis muscle. For most people it will travel under the muscle, for some it will go over the muscle, and for a few (about 15%) it will travel right through the piriformis muscle belly. When this muscle becomes tight or in spasm it can irritate the sciatic nerve.

There are certainly more ways the sciatic nerve can be irritated and cause sciatic symptoms but the conditions listed above are what we see at Living Health most often.

Sciatica Treatment:

The first step in treating sciatica is correctly diagnosing the cause of the sciatic nerve irritation. As previously mentioned, there are many ways the sciatic nerve can be irritated. At Living Health Integrative Medicine, each patient will have a thorough history taken to identify the signs and symptoms of their individual condition. This ensures a correct and accurate diagnosis. A thorough chiropractic examination will then be performed, including several orthopedic tests to help differentiate what may be causing the sciatic nerve irritation. If necessary, imaging such as x-ray or MRI may be used.

Once identified, we will tailor a treatment plan specifically for your condition based on our history and exam findings. This treatment plan is designed to alleviate whatever is causing that sciatic nerve irritation. Living Health has a wide range of treatment options; chiropractic adjustments, passive modalities such as electrical muscle stimulation and cold laser technology, therapeutic stretching and strengthening exercises, and mechanical traction. Each patient is different so every patient’s treatment plan must be uniquely designed for them.


If your reading this article and realize you currently don’t have any of these symptoms that’s great! Let’s learn how to prevent them from occurring. First and foremost proper diet, exercise, and hydration will keep inflammation down throughout the body, helping to prevent you from becoming susceptible to injury. Our Nutritionist and Health Coach at Living Health Integrative Medicine can design individualized dietary and exercises programs to help you achieve your health goals, whether that’s losing weight or just becoming more fit. Regular chiropractic adjustments will also aid in the prevention of injury. By making sure the spine is properly aligned and removing any nerve irritation we can prevent a full-blown case of sciatica. There are also certain stretches that can specifically target the piriformis muscle and prevent it from irritating the sciatic nerve, which we teach to our patients.

If you or someone you know is suffering from the symptoms of sciatic nerve pain and are experiencing just how debilitating sciatica can be, please do not wait any longer. Make an appointment to come into the office so we can find the root cause of your issue and attack that problem, instead of just covering up the symptoms with drugs.


For more on causes and prevention of Sciatica, click here.