Can A Chiropractor Help With Sciatica?

Posted by: Paul Dhaliwal Comments: 0

If you are experiencing acute or chronic pain in your lower back, hips, buttocks, or legs, there’s a chance you may be experiencing sciatica. 

Though the pain caused by sciatica can sometimes be severe, it is also a highly treatable condition. Chiropractors can help alleviate sciatica pain, especially in cases where the condition is caused by a herniated disc. Other treatments include medications and natural remedies, like stretching. 

In this article, we discuss what sciatica is, what causes it, and some of the symptoms and treatments for it. Keep reading to learn about natural at-home remedies for alleviating sciatica!

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a musculoskeletal pain disorder characterized by the feeling of pain in the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back and moves down through the hips and buttocks to reach the upper part of a person’s legs. 

According to the CDC’s National Health Statistics Reports, roughly 9.8% of U.S. adults experience sciatica, while more than 50% of U.S. adults have some form of musculoskeletal pain disorder. 

The pain that results from sciatica can range in severity, with some cases including severe pain. However, sciatica is a treatable condition that can be alleviated with proper care. Sudden severe or worsening pain should always be assessed by a doctor when it occurs. 

As for how sciatica feels, as mentioned, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower back to each leg. When pain occurs, it can feel like an ache, burn, or jolt. Agitating the body from actions such as sneezing or coughing can cause a pain flare-up for people with sciatica. 

What Causes Sciatica?

Sciatica often results from irritation or damage to the nerve, typically caused by contact with a disc, bone, joint, or muscle. Many different events and conditions can cause a pinch or damage to the sciatic nerve, prompting the development of sciatica in some cases.

According to Harvard Health, some of the common causes of sciatica include:

  • Herniated Disc: A herniated disc is considered one of the most common causes of sciatica. Herniated discs occur when a spinal disk in the lower back area becomes damaged, generally from the soft interior of the disc rupturing and pushing through to the exterior. Though herniated discs do become more common in older people, younger people can experience them as well as a result of a sprain or injury to the lower back region of the body. 
  • Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that protects the spinal cord and nerves from damage. This condition can be developed before birth in some rare cases but is most commonly seen in people in their 40s or older. Certain age-related changes are associated with the development of spinal stenosis, including degeneration of the disc, osteoarthritis of the facet joint, and thickened ligaments. 
  • Spondylolisthesis: Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of a person’s vertebrae (bones of the spine) slips forward, ending up out of alignment with the rest of the spine. Though this condition can happen at any point along the spine, it most commonly occurs in the lower back — hence its association with sciatica. In teens, spondylolisthesis is often developed in response to a traumatic injury or a congenital defect, whereas in adults, it develops as a result of osteoarthritis. 
  • Trauma: Trauma refers to major injuries or psychological events that semi-permanently or permanently affect a person’s ability to function. Sciatica can be caused by traumatic injuries that cause damage to the buttocks, hamstring, or thigh muscles. These types of injuries are not uncommon, occurring the most in falls, sports injuries, and car accidents. 
  • Pregnancy: When a person is pregnant, they have a considerable amount of extra weight to carry around — not to mention the pressure a fetus places on the internal organs. It’s no wonder that this can put a strain on the lower back and sciatic nerve. Shifting of weight from movement, as well as loosened ligaments, can lead to sciatica during pregnancy. 

What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

The most common symptom a person is likely to experience from sciatica is pain — however, even this pain can vary in how it feels and its severity.

Here is an overview of the symptoms associated with sciatica:

  • Pain (moderate to severe) in the lower back, hips, buttocks, hamstrings, and/or calves
  • Numbness or a decrease in strength in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and/or feet
  • Inability to move without worsening the pain
  • The “pins and needles” sensation in the legs, toes, and/or feet
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control 

In terms of when to see a doctor, it depends on the pain severity and combination of symptoms you are experiencing. Though mild cases of sciatica can clear up on their own, or with treatment with your chiropractor, physiotherapist, or massage therapist, if you experience severe or worsening symptoms of sciatica with loss of sensation or bowel control, your best choice is to contact your doctor for guidance. 

How Does a Chiropractor Treat Sciatica?

Treatments for sciatica can vary depending on the severity and complexity of the condition.

In general, chiropractors are a good option for assessing the spine’s alignment and the well-being of the sciatic nerve. One of the main ways a chiropractor can treat sciatica is through the use of spinal manipulations that can enable herniated discs to return to their original positions and also alleviate any unnecessary pressure on the sciatic nerve.  Modern chiropractic care also addresses the muscles and ligaments surrounding the sciatic nerve with massage, active release, and laser therapy, to ensure there is no compression or irritation of the nerve.

Chiropractic care for sciatica is safe to be coupled with traditional healthcare as well, as some cases of sciatica do require medical intervention for medications, injections and even surgeries. 

Additionally, a chiropractor or healthcare professional may recommend helpful stretches and exercises to help reduce the pressure to your sciatic nerve. 

How Long Does Sciatica Last?

Sciatica can be either an acute or a chronic condition

In the case of acute episodes, this type of sciatica will normally last between one to four weeks in total, with the final weeks featuring less pain overall. As for chronic sciatica episodes, this means a person is likely to experience sciatic flare-ups throughout their life. Luckily, chronic sciatica is thought to have milder pain compared to acute sciatica. 

Other Ways to Treat Sciatica Naturally

Aside from chiropractic care, medical intervention, and over-the-counter medicines, there are a few additional ways to naturally alleviate the symptoms of sciatica.

These include: 

  • Stretching: Stretching the lower back and hamstrings can help you improve your body’s flexibility and mobility. In turn, your body is less susceptible to injuries that can cause the development of sciatica. 
  • Ice & Warm Compresses: Hot and cold temperatures are known for helping alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. When a sciatica flare-up is at its peak, ice packs can help bring down any swelling, followed by warm compresses that soothe the pain. 
  • Practice Good Posture: Whether you are sitting, standing, running, or any other movement, your posture has a major influence on the well-being of the sciatic nerve. By focusing on maintaining good posture throughout the day, you can reduce the amount of unnecessary pressure being put on the nerve, thus reducing the chances of a sciatica episode. 
  • Wear Supportive Shoes: Like with good posture, having the right kinds of supportive shoes to help support your legs and lower back can make a big difference when it comes to treating and preventing sciatica. 

Final Thoughts

If you are or think you may be experiencing sciatica, your best plan of action is to visit your local doctor or healthcare practitioner. With their guidance, you can determine the best treatment plan for your sciatica, as well as rule out any more serious health conditions. 

A chiropractor can also be a great professional to seek out when dealing with sciatica. Not only can a chiropractor help to alleviate current pain but they can also provide you with tips and tricks for stretching and posture that can prevent future pain as well. 

Taking preventative measures — like stretching and wearing supportive shoes — is always a good idea, too. Even if you are not at risk of developing sciatica, these types of preventative measures can also help you avoid other potential musculoskeletal pain conditions.