Sciatica describes persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, down through the buttock, and into the lower leg. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body, running from the lower back through the buttocks and down the back of each leg. It controls the muscles of the lower leg and provides sensation to the thighs, legs, and the soles of the feet.
Although sciatica is a relatively common form of low-back and leg pain, the true meaning of the term is often misunderstood. Sciatica is actually a set of symptoms—not a diagnosis for what is irritating the nerve root and causing the pain.
Sciatica occurs most frequently in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Most often, it tends to develop as a result of general wear and tear on the structures of the lower spine, not as a result of injury.
What are the symptoms of sciatica?
The most common sciatica symptoms are pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, from the lower back and down one leg; however, symptoms can vary widely depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected. Some may experience a mild tingling, a dull ache, or even a burning sensation, typically on one side of the body.
Some patients also report:
A pins-and-needles sensation, most often in the toes or foot
Numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot
Pain from sciatica often begins slowly, gradually intensifying over time. In addition, the pain can worsen after prolonged sitting, sneezing, coughing, bending, or other sudden movements.
How is sciatica diagnosed?
Doctor Galli will begin by taking a complete patient history. You’ll be asked to describe your pain and to explain when the pain began, and what activities lessen or intensify the pain. Forming a diagnosis will also require a physical and neurological exam, in which the doctor will pay special attention to your spine and legs. You may be asked to perform some basic activities that will test your sensory and muscle strength, as well as your reflexes. For example, you may be asked to lie on an examination table and lift your legs straight in the air, one at a time.
In some cases, Dr. Galli may recommend diagnostic imaging, such as x-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Diagnostic imaging may be used to rule out a more serious condition, such as a tumor or infection, and can be used when patients with severe symptoms fail to respond to six to eight weeks of conservative treatment.
What are my treatment options?
Physical Therapy: Our customized exercise programs for patients suffering with sciatica, including aerobic conditioning, strengthening exercises and movements to increase flexibility and range of motion. This helps to restore function by increasing mobility and strengthening muscles, which support and strengthen the lumbar spine and pelvis. Of course, certain exercises may have to be avoided depending upon the cause of sciatic pain.
Deep Tissue Massage: Targets chronic muscle tension that presses on the sciatic nerve or related nerve roots. Direct pressure and friction to release this tension in soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles) is utilized. Massage Therapy is used to reduce muscle spasms.
Ice/Cold Therapy: Reduces inflammation and helps to control sciatic pain.
Ultrasound: Sound waves create gentle heat which penetrates deep into tissues. This treatment option increases circulation and helps to reduce muscle spasms, cramping, swelling, stiffness and pain.
TENS Unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation): Variable intensities of electrical current control acute pain and reduce muscle spasms.
Chiropractic Adjustments (Spinal manipulation): Manipulation frees restricted movement of the spine and helps to restore misaligned vertebral bodies to their proper position. Nerve irritability, caused by inflammation, muscle spasm and pain can be reduced with spinal adjustments.
Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression: Our specialized chiropractic table bends and elongates the spine to reduce pressure within the disc, which may provide both immediate pain relief and rehabilitation to prevent future recurrences. Spinal Decompression helps to alleviate pressure on discs, which in turn reduces pressure on the sciatic nerve. Reducing the pressure in the lumbar discs promotes healing of the disc as fluids and nutrients enter the disc through diffusion.
Supports: Proper support is vital to prevent slouching – placing excessive stress on the lower back. A chair that tilts back slightly will shift your weight to the backrest of the chair, taking stress off the lower back. Support is necessary while lying down too – a saggy mattress may irritate the spinal joints and aggravate sciatica.