The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest nerve in the body, originating in the low back and branching down each leg to the feet. Sciatica refers to pressure on the sciatic nerve resulting in pain or numbness in the legs and gluteal muscles. It is a term for the symptoms of pain, not of the causitory problem. There are a few culprits for sciatica, including disc injuries or bone spurs in the low back. It usually affects only one side of the body and can be alleviated with proper care. Pinnacle Chiropractic’s own Dr. Casselman specializes in treating sciatica.
Sciatica results from the impingement—or pressure on—the sciatic nerve. This is generally caused by one of two things: a herniated disc or bone spurs. A herniated disc means that one of the protective discs between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine bulges into the spinal column. This can occur due to injury or strain. Bone spurs (also called osteophytes) are bony protrusions that form on edges of bone. When these develop on vertebrae, which can occur as a result of osteoarthritis, they can pinch the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica.
Sustaining a back injury is not the only way to increase the risk of sciatica. There are a few factors that might make you more susceptible:
- Age. People between 30 and 50 are more likely to experience sciatica caused by disc degeneration.
- Obesity. Excess weight adds stress to the spine.
- A sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for long periods of time without exercise can weaken core and back muscles.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is a risk factor for many kinds of nerve damage.
- Osteoarthritis in the spine. Osteoarthritis can result in lumbar spinal stenosis which is the narrowing of the spaces in the spine.
- Smoking. Smoking is known to weaken bones and damage spinal tissue.
Sciatica pain falls on a spectrum ranging from a mild ache to a sharp burning sensation. While it may present itself as numbness or muscle weakness, it can also feel like a shock, acute and sudden. Coughing or sneezing can aggravate the pain, and the symptoms may be constant or intermittent. If the cause of the pain is not treated, sciatica may appear to be on the mend only to return like an uninvited guest. Seek immediate care if you experience loss of feeling or weakness in your legs, or loss of bowel or bladder function.
Everyone’s sciatica is different, and that is why Dr. Casselman works with individuals to help them find relief. For mild to moderate sciatica, traditional chiropractic adjusting and gentle stretching at home are usually sufficient to correct the problem. In more severe cases (for dramatic or chronic disk herniation or if your body does not respond to other treatments), a program of spinal decompression and laser treatment may be recommended.
Spinal decompression therapy is a set of techniques to lengthen the spine and increase the space between the vertebrae. A traction table is used to stretch and relax the spine intermittently. Laser treatment allows a chiropractor to target a troubled area more precisely. It works under the principle of photobiomodulation, or light stimulating biochemical processes. A medically-safe laser is directed at the affected area, and the energy in the beam stimulates cellular energy to let your cells better do their jobs to mitigate inflammation and promote healing.
Remember that sciatica is a symptom, not the actual problem, so while it is possible for the pain to get better over time without a chiropractor’s help, your best option is to work with a professional to find the underlying cause of pain. We at Pinnacle Chiropractic & Spinal Rehab Center of Highlands Ranch treat sciatica frequently; let us help to discover the root of your sciatica symptoms and find the best path to healing.