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Sciatica: What Is It and How Can Chiropractic Help?

Sciatica is a common ailment that affects every 1 in 10 adults in the United States. It's most prevalent in individuals aged between 25 and 45 years old. The condition is characterized by a 'shooting' back pain that travels down through the pelvis, buttocks, and back legs. The pain from it can be so severe that it temporarily inhibits mobility, preventing people from working, doing everyday tasks, or just enjoying life. Traditionally, medical doctors have treated it by prescribing sufferers with medications and invasive therapies.

However, in recent years, chiropractic treatment for the condition is becoming extremely popular as experts uncover its efficiency in mitigating pain and thoroughly curing it. 

Illustration Demonstrating Sciatica and Chiropractic Treatment Techniques

Now, chiropractors like Dr. Zachary Langgle of Prime Health + Wellness regularly treat the condition—helping their body return to its optimal condition, and allow them to live pain-free. 

To help you better understand how chiropractic practices can help with the condition, here's everything you need to know about it. 

What Is Sciatica?

It's a condition that affects the lower back, inflicting pain on your sciatic nerve. The nerve originates from the lower back, extending down each side of your hip, buttocks, and legs to your feet. Typically, when a person suffers from this condition, only one side of their body gets affected. 

Besides shooting pain on the lower back, buttocks, and legs, here are other common symptoms of the condition: 

  • Numbness or weakness on the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet
  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Loss of movement
  • A tingling feeling or 'pins and needles' on your legs, toes, or feet
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control 

It usually occurs when a person has a pre-existing spinal condition, like a bone spur, herniated disc, or spinal stenosis compresses the sciatic nerve. Although the pain associated with the compression of the sciatic nerve can be severe, most of the time, the condition goes away on its own in a couple of weeks without surgical or medical interventions. 

However, medical doctors may suggest surgery if their patient experiences extreme weakness in their legs or experience a sudden loss of bowel and bladder control. 

Illustration Highlighting Various Causes of Sciatica Including Spinal Conditions

Causes of Sciatica

Several medical conditions can cause compression in the sciatic nerve. These include: 

  • Herniated or Slipped Discs  - This places pressure on the sciatic nerve and is usually the most common cause of the medical condition. Around 1% to 5% of people in the United States experience slipped discs at some point in their lives. These discs serve as the cushioning pads between each of your spine's vertebrae. Extreme pressure on these pads can cause their center to bulge or 'herniation,' and press on the sciatic nerve when this happens. 
  • Degenerative Disc Disease - This is the natural wear down of the discs between the spine's vertebrae. The wearing down shortens their height, leading to nerve passageways becoming narrower and pinching the sciatic nerve roots. 
  • Spinal Stenosis - This is the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal, leading to the reduced spinal cord and sciatic nerves' available space. 
  • Spondylolisthesis - This is the slippage of one spinal vertebra, resulting in it becoming out of place. This unusual phenomenon narrows the opening of the vertebrae, where the nerve exits. It produces an 'extended' spinal bone, which can pinch the sciatic nerve. 
  • Piriformis Syndrome - This is a condition that occurs when a small muscle in your buttocks called the 'piriformis muscle' becomes tight or gets into a spasm. When this happens, it can place pressure and irritate your sciatic nerve. 
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome - This is a rare but dangerous medical condition that affects the bundle of nerves on the end of your spinal cord dubbed the 'cauda equina.' It causes shooting pain down the back legs and numbness around your anus, causing loss of bowel and bladder control. 
Graphic Illustration of a Chiropractor Treating Sciatica Through Various Techniques

How Chiropractors Can Help With Sciatica 

While sciatica pain can be debilitating, Dr. Zachary Langgle can help relieve it gently and naturally, giving you care without costly and adverse side effects you'd usually get with traditional medications. 

With that in mind, here are different ways chiropractors can help mitigate pain from your sciatic nerve: 

Chiropractic Massage Therapy

Chiropractic massage is a more intense version of regular massage as it aims to relieve the deepest parts of your affected body parts to mitigate sciatic pain. This practice can help induce deep muscle relaxation and release endorphins that serve as natural painkillers. Although regular spa massages can ease sore muscles, chiropractic massage can soothe and heal your underlying medical conditions. 

Dr. Langgle knows the ins and outs of the musculoskeletal system, helping them apply the right pressure that helps kick off your healing process. 

Heat and Cold Therapy 

Chiropractors also like to alternate cold and heat therapies to provide quick relief from numerous musculoskeletal pains and aches. Heat can release the tight muscles and ease the pain away, while the cold slows down blood flow, dulling the symptoms of inflammation. A chiropractor will determine which treatment works best for you and decide whether to use only one or both of them. 

Chiropractic Spinal Adjustments

Chiropractors mostly follow this mode of treatment for mitigating sciatic pain. Spinal adjustments or manipulation allows a herniated disc to rest back into position, releasing the pressure off your sciatic nerve. Additionally, the adjustments can also free limited spinal movements and restore misaligned spines and vertebral discs. A spinal adjustment ranges from fast high-velocity thrusts to a combination of minimal force and gentle pressure. This technique helps chiropractors gently move the patient's lower back vertebrae, removing it from the sciatic nerve, reducing pain, and promoting better nerve signal flow and mobility. 

Spinal Decompression

Wearing down of your discs in your spine is normal as you age, resulting in pinched nerves and spinal compression. This condition results in placing pressure on your sciatic nerves. As its name implies, spinal decompression relieves compression from the nerves that are causing the pain. 

Other Modalities 

Different modalities that chiropractors do include ultrasound, which is a gentle heat generated by sound waves. This heat can penetrate deep into a person's body tissues, improving circulation to promote healing, easing your sciatic pain. Another healing method includes low-level laser therapy that enhances the healing process by reducing irritation, swelling, and pain. Finally, chiropractors can also use TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), a nerve-stimulating device that relaxes muscle spasms and reduces pain. 

Lifestyle Changes

Dr. Langgle looks into every aspect of their patient's lives, and they may recommend new ways to stand, sit, sleep, or move things to protect the optimal position of the sciatic nerve. These changes can help strengthen back muscles, keep the discs in place, and reduce the discs' chances of placing pressure on your sciatic nerves again. 

Compression on the sciatic nerves can be caused by different disorders beyond the scope of chiropractic care. That's why if a chiropractor determines your condition requires a more extensive treatment by another type of doctor, then they will refer you to another specialist. However, in most cases, the referring chiropractor will continue treating you by co-managing your treatment plan with the other specialist. 

Illustration of Exercises and Lifestyle Habits to Prevent Sciatica

How to Prevent Sciatica

The key to preventing compression on your sciatic nerve is by keeping your body active and moving correctly, which you can do in many ways. These are the different ways you can prevent it and other secondary conditions such as lower back pain:

  • Maintain or Improve Your Core Stability

Regularly doing exercises that promote core stability can help prevent pain in your lower back. That's why many doctors encourage patients to stick with a workout regimen that focuses on the core to help them long-term. Although you don't need to consult with a medical professional such as a chiropractor before exercising, it's ideal if you do. That's because there are activities that can worsen your condition. They can help create an exercise program that works best with your current health and health goals. 

  • Stretching Exercises

If you think you can't stick to regular exercises, stretching is a great way to get your body moving without sacrificing too much time and effort. Stretching can help you maintain flexibility throughout your lower back, hips, and legs, relieving pressures that may be building up in your body. To prevent your sciatic nerves from getting compressed, you should specifically stretch your piriformis muscles on both sides. 

The best way to prevent the condition is by visiting Dr. Langgle periodically throughout the year, which can also help reduce your risks of developing other musculoskeletal issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. 

If you're seeking a reliable chiropractor to help you out, Dr. Langgle has been treating patients of all ages in Downers Grove, Illinois, for years. Prime Health + Wellness can help your entire family—from infants to seniors, providing the best care for your loved ones. 

For Dr. Langgle, the most fulfilling aspect of being a chiropractor is being able to change a patient’s life without the use of drugs or surgery.

If you're suffering from back pain due to sciatica and other musculoskeletal issues, Dr. Langgle can help mitigate these naturally—restoring ideal health and well-being.

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