If you’re experiencing low back pain that travels into the hip, buttocks, back of the thigh, calf, or foot, you may have sciatica. We are a low back pain treatment clinic in Rochester, and here’s everything we know about the illness. Sciatica is the name given to any pain that is caused by the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. People in the 30-50-year-old age range are most likely to experience this condition, which can range from a mild, annoying pain, to a severe knife-like pain.
Understanding the Sciatic Nerve
The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the human body. The sciatic nerve is formed from nerves that emerge from the lowest two lumbar vertebrae (L4 and L5) and the sacrum (the triangle-shaped bone at the base of the spine). These smaller nerve fibers combine to form the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, through the buttock, and down the back of the leg on each side.
Nerves have multiple jobs throughout the body; some are responsible for sensation/feeling, and others make movement happen. The sciatic nerve provides the connection to the central nervous system for almost all of the skin of the leg (sensation/feeling), as well as the muscles in the back of the thigh, leg, and foot (movement).
What Causes Sciatica?
When the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated, the condition is referred to as sciatica. The source of the irritation or compression may differ. Some of the most common causes of sciatica include:
Degenerative disc disease
The discs that separate the vertebrae in your lower back can degenerate over time, which can cause irritation or compression of the nerve root that contributes to the sciatic nerve.
When the inner nucleus of the disc tears through the outer fibrous layers, it can either push into the spinal cord itself or the nerve root contributions of the sciatic nerve.
Lumbar spinal stenosis
The spinal canal that houses the spinal cord in the low back can narrow and lead to sciatica.
Sometimes people will use the term “slipped disc” to describe the condition where one vertebra slips forward over the one below it, which can narrow the spinal canal and compress the nerve roots.
The piriformis muscle, located in the buttock on each side, may spasm or be injured and cause compression of the sciatic nerve which runs right beside it. For some, the sciatic nerve actually pierces the piriformis muscle and runs through it, increasing the chances for nerve compression.
Changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of developing sciatica.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Without a doubt, the most common symptom of sciatica is pain that is frequently described as searing, burning, or shooting. This pain can be felt anywhere along the course of the nerve, from the lower back to the foot. Aside from this hallmark pain, other common sciatica symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling in the affected leg
- Pain that worsens when sitting
- Weakness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- Difficulty standing up due to the pain
Usually, sciatica only affects one side of the body. These symptoms can vary from person to person and may even change in quality from day to day. The severity of the pain can range from a mild annoyance to severe and debilitating.
Sciatica Can Start in the Neck
Though it may seem strange to consider the possibility that the root cause of sciatica is at the other end of the spine, it makes perfect sense once you understand how your neck and back work together to keep your head balanced. Your head balances on top of a vertebra called your atlas (C1). The atlas is uniquely shaped to do this job. It not only balances the head but also allows for more freedom of movement than any other part of the spine.
Because the atlas is the most freely movable vertebra, it can be especially vulnerable to misaligning when you have an injury or experience wear and tear over time. When the head is no longer balanced in a neutral position, the body is forced to shift and twist underneath it so it can be carried correctly. You may notice that your head is tilted a bit to one side, your shoulders are uneven, and one hip is higher than the other. This imbalance, over time, can cause unequal muscle tension, uneven wear on joints, and can lead to the many causes of sciatica.
When the atlas is causing these compensations throughout the body, methods that treat the lower back or leg may provide some needed temporary relief. However, until the correct head position is restored, the imbalances that are contributing to the sciatic nerve irritation will persist.
The Upper Cervical Chiropractic Solution to Sciatica
The lasting solution to sciatica includes making sure that the atlas is appropriately aligned. Taking care of this vital piece of the puzzle has helped many sciatica sufferers in the Rochester area find natural relief. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a specialized form of chiropractic that gently and precisely realigns the head and neck, which subsequently eases the tension that the rest of the body was forced into. Trillium Spinal Care is the premier low back pain treatment clinic in Rochester. Our systematic, thorough approach goes beyond surface-level symptom management to get to the root cause of low back pain, sciatica, and many other chronic health issues.