Have you or anyone that you know ever felt pain radiating into the buttocks and along the back of the leg? If so, you may have suffered from a common condition called sciatica. People with the condition commonly describe it as a “shooting pain down the back of the leg” but there are many different ways that it can present itself. Left unattended or improperly managed, it can cause a lot of pain, discomfort, and disability – in other words, it can be a real pain in the rear! In today’s message, we will outline some of the causes and symptoms of sciatica and discuss how it can be successfully managed.
Sciatica can start in the lower back and move to the buttocks eventually progressing all the way down to the back of the thigh, lower leg and/or into the feet. Usually, it is only felt in one leg but occasionally pain can be felt in both legs (which in some cases may be a medical emergency). Sometimes weakness is felt in the muscles of the leg and low back. Other times you may feel some burning, tingling, numbness or other odd feelings in your areas of complaint. The most common cause of sciatica is by a herniated or bulging spinal disc that is entraping or “pinching” the nerves of the lower back and leg but there are other conditions that can heavily mimic it and its symptoms. Lumbar disc lesions (without herniation), IVF and canal stenosis, lumbar facet inflammation, and piriformis syndrome are some of the other common conditions that have many of the same symptoms of sciatica. If it is a disc herniation, it can very often be managed well by conservative means. It is important that your chiropractor or other physical medicine practitioner differentiate the condition properly when rendering a diagnosis and treatment plan. The good news is that sciatica or any other those other conditions can and often do respond well to conservative care including exercise rehabilitation, posture and ergonomic correction, adjustments, and other surgery-free treatment options.
If you are suffering from a condition with symptoms similar to sciatica, your chiropractic physician will address it in several steps. They will 1st take a detailed history, outlining past medical history, the nature of the condition and any present disabilities, and then progress to an examination meant to discover the cause of the symptoms. Examinations usually consist of a number of movement and orthopedic tests (including neurological and range of motion tests) to determine the correct diagnosis for the condition. From there further special studies such as an MRI or x-ray radiology may be ordered. It is important to note that such special studies are not always warranted in the beginning and may not be the best course of action until a brief period of treatment is attempted. After a diagnosis is rendered a treatment plan will be developed. The stage of care will dictate some of the course of action (is the condition acute, subacute, or chronic?) and a treatment recommendation will be given. If the recommendations are accepted by the patient, a brief course of care will begin with careful monitoring of the patient’s condition over the next 7-14 days. Ideally (and in most cases), gradual and measurable improvements will begin over the initial few visits. The severity and age of the condition, response to treatment, and the health status and lifestyle of the patient will be determining factors for the overall length of treatment. When these steps are followed and appropriate interventions are utilized, patients typically see good results with their care. Good news, huh?!
Sciatica is a common condition that will affect a large portion of our population at some point in their lives. It can be very debilitating and if left unattended may lead to further problems down the road. If you or anyone you know is affected by some of the symptoms that we discussed today, I urge you to have them checked out by one of our licensed professionals. Our chiropractors are well trained to identify and correct a number of ailments including sciatica. With proper care and treatment, we can usually handle these problems very effectively and without the need for surgery or other invasive interventions. I hope you have a great rest of your week and please come back next week to see what we are up to!