3 Causes of Sciatica and Tips for Prevention
3 Causes of Sciatica and Tips for Prevention
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is one of the most missed diagnosed and over diagnosed conditions that comes into our office. Patients are frequently telling me they think they have sciatica but have no symptoms of true sciatica. We must first 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 back of the thigh and into the calf and foot. 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 potentially even into the lower leg and foot. These symptoms are usually one sided (rarely does it travel down both legs) and consists of intense pain in the low back and down the leg. Symptoms may also include numbness, tingling, and weakness in those same areas. So to clarify, sciatica is not simply low back pain and is not pain that travels into the groin, or into the front of the thigh. These are the common misconceptions we hear from patients.
Causes of Sciatica
Now that we understand what sciatica is, what causes it? As previously stated sciatica is irritation to the sciatic nerve that originates in the low back and travels through the buttocks. There are several ways the nerve can be irritated during this path. Below are the most common causes of sciatica that we 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, degenerative disc disease occurs when the spine is out of its proper alignment causing decreased motion of the joints of the spine and the discs. Because the disc does not have a blood supply it absorbs its nutrients through movement. If the spine is not aligned properly, therefore causing decreased range of motion and decreased nutrient absorption; the discs will begin to deteriorate. This can lead to a decreased space for the exiting spinal nerve causing irritation.
➢ Piriformis Syndrome:
As stated previously, the sciatic nerve travels from the low back through the buttocks. One of the muscles it 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 I see most often.
Sciatica Treatment in Annapolis at Living Health Integrative Medicine
The first step in treating sciatica is first correctly diagnosing the cause of the sciatic nerve irritation. As stated above there are many ways the sciatic nerve can be irritated. To correctly and accurately diagnose the cause of sciatica in our office each patient will have a thorough history taken to identify the signs and symptoms of their individual condition. Then a thorough chiropractic examination will 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 to more accurately find the root cause of the issue.
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. At our office we have a wide range of treatment options, which range from chiropractic adjustments, passive modalities such as electrical muscle stimulation and cold laser technology, therapeutic stretching and strengthening exercises, and mechanical traction. Each patient’s condition and cause of their symptoms 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 the inflammation down throughout the body helping to prevent you from becoming susceptible to injury. At our office we can design individualized dietary and exercise programs to help you achieve your health goals, whether that’s losing weight or just becoming more fit. Regular chiropractic adjustments will also prevent 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 we just described 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 medications.