Many have heard the term sciatica and some people think of any shooting pain in the leg as sciatic pain. However, in recent months I have had several patients come in complaining of sciatica - or someone they knew told them that it sounded like sciatica - and shortly after talking to the patient about the pain pattern and location, what they were suffering from was clearly not sciatica. Rather, it was a compression or pinch of a different lower extremity nerve. If you have ever suffered from sciatica, you know how excruciating and debilitating the pain can be. Therefore, it is extremely important to know exactly what sciatica is - so let’s talk about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of a true sciatic condition.
Originating in the low back and running down the back of each leg, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It provides feeling to the back of the thigh, part of the lower leg, and the sole of the foot. It also controls the muscles of the back of the knee and lower leg. The term sciatica refers to the pain, weakness, numbness or tingling in the leg. It is important to note that sciatica is not a medical condition on its own rather it is a symptom of another injury or dysfunction in the body. The diagnosis of that underlying condition that is causing the sciatic pain is the critical component for successful management and treatment.
Common causes of pressure being placed on the sciatic nerve leading to sciatica are bulging disc, herniated disc, pelvic injury or fracture, and tumors. Piriformis syndrome is also a common cause of sciatica. The piriformis is a narrow muscle that lies in the gluteal region of the hip and leg. The sciatic nerve passes just under this muscle as it exits down from the lower back. Tightness or spasm in the piriformis muscle will cause pressure directly on the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica pain can vary widely - a classic sign of sciatica is pain radiating from the lower back to the buttock region and down the back of the leg. The pain may feel like a mild tingling, dull ache, a burning sensation, or a combination of all traveling down the pathway of the nerve. Someone may also notice muscle weakness in the affected leg. Typically the pain starts slowly and feels worse with long periods of standing or sitting, bending backwards, coughing, sneezing, or at night. This pain can become extremely uncomfortable, almost like an electric shock.
Conservative treatment of the underlying cause is imperative in the treatment of sciatica. Treatments such as pain medication, icing and heating the area of discomfort, or just waiting to see if the pain subsides, all have short-term effectiveness at best because they are not treating the source of the problem. By not treating the source of the problem, someone will have increased their chances of suffering from sciatica again in the near future. Sciatica treatment combining stretches, soft tissue release of the piriformis and other involved muscles, and chiropractic care has proven to be more effective and with longer-lasting results.
Another extremely effective way to treat sciatica is the use of Active Release Techniques®. In recent years, Active Release Techniques® has become the “Gold Standard” for soft tissue treatments and for that reason it has become the “treatment of choice” for world-class athletes from around the world. ART® works primarily to eliminate scar tissue build-up from within soft tissue structures. Commonly it is this scar tissue build-up that causes a muscle or nerve to become irritated, tight, or impinged upon - thus causing sciatica. Click here, for more information on Active Release Techniques®.
If you think you may be suffering sciatica or sciatic-like pain, or suffer from reoccurring episodes of sciatica, make an appointment now to have a thorough examination performed.