What is sciatica
The sciatica nerve is the single longest nerve in the human body, traveling from each side of the lower spine through the buttock, down the back of your thighs, and down into the feet. The nerve serves a vital role in connecting the spinal cord with the leg and foot muscles.
Sciatica and sciatic nerve pain are actually secondary symptoms and indications of a problem in the lumbar region of your back placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Any kind of pain or neurological issue on this nerve is referred to as sciatica. The medical term for sciatica is lumber radiculopathy, or redicular pain.
A variety of lower back problems can lead to pain along the sciatic nerve. The most common cause of sciatic pain is when nerves in the lower spine are irritated by a herniated disc. The nerve roots that leave the spine to form the sciatic nerve are especially sensitive.
The sciatic nerve:
The sciatic nerve is a combination of five nerves: the fourth and fifth lumbar nerves and the first three nerves in the sacral spine. The role of the sciatic nerve is to supply motor and sensory functions to specific areas of the leg and foot by connecting the muscles of the lower back, leg and and foot. This is why you can feel weakness, numbness or tingling in your leg, ankle, foot or toes when the sciatic nerve is impaired. Because of the varying nerve pathways throughout your leg and foot, symptoms may be different for each patient.
Is sciatica a medical condition?
No. Sciatica is not a medical condition. It is no diagnosis. Sciatica itself is not a condition or disease, rather is it the name of a set of symptoms cause by a spinal/nerve condition. The diagnosis is what is causing the compression or inflammation in the nerve.
What are symptoms of sciatica?
Sciatica symptoms may include pain, weakness, numbness in the buttocks or legs, or a burning or tingling sensation down the back of the leg; however, the specific symptoms will vary depending on which spinal nerve is affected and how it is compromised.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is inflamed or compressed, commonly in the lower back. This can result in further damage to the spine.
The majority of sciatica patients will experience both back pain and leg pain; however, there have been cases where back pain was not present.
Common symptoms of nerve compression are characterized by:
- Pain or tingling in a single leg (not both).
- Pressure, numbness, or tingling that travels down the leg.
- Pain that starts in the lower back and travels down the back of the thigh or all the way to the foot.
- A sharp pain, as opposed to a throbbing pain.
- Words used to describe sciatic pain include burning, sharp, or electric-like.
- Pain is usually worse when standing or sitting still, as opposed to lying down or walking.
The majority of sciatica patients will experience both back pain and leg pain; however, there have been cases where back pain was not present. A thorough examination by your chiropractor will reveal the cause of the leg pain and be able to tell you if a compressed nerve is the culprit. For example, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Tony Romo, suffered from a herniated disc; however, it was initially thought to be a hamstring injury.
Common conditions that lead to sciatica:
- Bulging, or herniated disc. A herniated disc is characterized by the inner nucleus (gel-like) center breaks through its outer wall. The disc material can press against on adjacent nerve root and compress the nerve tissue.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis. Lumbar spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by the spinal canal or vertebrae narrowing.
- Spondylolisthesis. Spondylolisthesis is a forward displacement of a vertebra due to a break or fracture. Backward displacement is called retrolisthesis.
- Piriformis Syndrome. The piriformis syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle spasms. This muscle is located above the sciatic nerve in the lower part of the spine, connecting the thigh bone and assisting in hip rotation. When a spasm occurs, the sciatic nerve is compressed.
- Osteophytes. Osteophytes are bone spurs, or smooth structures that can form over a long period of time, that are a sign of spinal degeneration.
Should you rest if you have sciatica?
While it may be beneficial to rest after experiencing significant pain, sciatica patients should actually try to be as active as possible. Exercise and stretching can help relieve the symptoms of sciatica. Inactivity will allow muscles, especially in the lower back, to become weak and less able to support the spine.
Does sciatica require surgery?
Most doctors and chiropractors will try and treat sciatica without surgery first. Treatments for sciatica may include physical therapy, hot and cold therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, or possibly epidural steroid injections. Research has shown that ninety percent of the time, patients can fully recover from sciatic pain, and avoid surgery with a conservative course of treatment. One treatment option is a sciatica pain relief program with chiropractic care.
Chiropractors are trained to treat patients with sciatic nerve pain.
How can a chiropractor help with sciatica?
Any problem in the lower spine can affect a nerve that feeds into the sciatic nerve. Chiropractors are trained to treat patients with sciatic nerve pain. Treatment options may include physical therapy, decompression therapy, massages, chiropractic and manual manipulation, hot and cold therapy, ultrasound therapy, acupuncture, or strengthening and stretching exercises.
How does stretching help sciatica?
Tight muscles can put strain and stress on the back, irritating sciatica symptoms. Stretching and exercise can also help relieve pain from sciatica symptoms and help strengthen your lower back. Inactivity over time can shorten muscles so it is beneficial to work your muscles after a long day at work or long periods of sitting.
5 Stretches to Relieve Sciatic Nerve Pain
1. Seated Twist
The seated twist is a great move for restoring and maintaining normal spinal rotation by lengthening the muscles around your spine and releasing muscle tension. A seated twist will also enhance the health of the discs and joints between the vertebrae.
Sit with both legs out. Cross your left leg over your right, leaving your left foot on the outside of your right knee. You can bend your right leg so that your right foot is in line with your left hip. As you twist to the left, place the outside of your right elbow against your left knee. Focus on opening up your shoulders to face the left. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
2. Low Lunge
The low lunge pose is great for stretching out tight quads, hamstrings and hips. The low lunge will: 1. release tension in your hips, 2. stretch hamstrings, quads and groin. 3. Strengthen your knees. 4. Help build mental focus.
Start in a runners lunge. Bring your right leg forward, keeping your knee over your ankle and left knee on the ground (if needed). Slowly lift your torso up and rest lightly on your right thigh. Slowly lean your hips forward, keeping your right knee in line with your toes. You should feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Then switch sides.
3. Knee to Chest
Pulling your knee to your chest can help you maintain proper posture and alleviate lower back pain by engaging your hip flexors, lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
While lying on your back with your buttocks flat on the floor, pull your right knee into your chest. You should feel this stretch in your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds. Then switch sides. Repeat this a few times on each leg. Once you have done each leg, pull both knees towards your chest and slightly roll side to side.
4. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is great for stretching and relaxing the spine while increasing blood circulation and relieving fatigue.
Start on all fours with knees and hands on the ground. Sit back on your knees with your buttocks touching your heels. While exhaling slowly, bring your chest between your knees and hold your hands out. Breathe gently and hold for 20 seconds. Return to all fours and repeat.
5. Cat Cow Pose
The cat cow pose sounds a little silly, but there are a lot of benefits to this stretch! The cat cow pose will not only improve posture and balance, but also strengthen and stretch your spine and neck, stretch hips, abdomen and back, increase coordination, promote emotional balance, relieve stress and calm the mind.
Start the stretch on all fours. Your hips should be directly over your knees. As you inhale, lower your tummy towards the floor, press your chest forward, and lift your head up. As you exhales, move into cat pose by rounding out your spine. Tuck your tailbone and draw your head in between your shoulders. Make sure each movement is slow and thorough. Do this for 5-10 breaths.