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Symptoms, Causes and Treatment for Sciatica

By Dr. Molly Casey

Women Running and Experience Back and Leg Pain Caused by Sciatica

Sciatica, also known as sciatic neuritis, is often used as a catch-all term for leg and lower back pain -- however this is incorrect. The sciatic nerve is not just one nerve, but a group of nerves bundled up into smaller branches that stem from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg into the toes. Sciatica is a diagnostic term referring to the radiating pain caused by inflammation, compression or irritation of that group of nerves.

Let’s take a look at how you can identify symptoms and causes of sciatica and the treatment options available to you.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Sciatica can cause extreme radiating pain and discomfort in the lower back and buttocks, down the back of the thigh, knee, leg (calf), and even into feet and toes. The pain can be intermittent and shooting, or it can be constant. Many also experience variant levels of numbness, tingling, muscle soreness and/or hot and cold sensations. All of these symptoms can have different levels of distribution and can be exacerbated with movement.

What Causes Sciatica Pain?

Compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve can occur at any point in the length of the nerve itself. All nerves have a root that exits the spine. The sciatic nerve is comprised of nerve roots at the L4-S3 levels of the spine. This means it originates in the lower lumbar and sacral regions (the low back). Often, compression or irritation is present in the spine because the vertebrae in these areas are subluxated (restricted or malpositioned). Irritation of the spine can also be caused by tight muscles that put pressure on the nerve, the most common being the piriformis or the gluteal muscles.

Sciatica Treatment Options

Although rare instances require more invasive forms of treatment, most cases can be managed or resolved in a few weeks by simple non-invasive treatments.

Non-invasive treatment such as spinal manipulation, also known as chiropractic adjustments, of the lumbar and sacral spine can improve motion and flexibility to restricted lower vertebras, and help facilitate proper nerve function for muscles that may be compressing the nerve. Doctors of chiropractic may also recommend home therapy treatments to aid the healing benefits of the adjustment, such as anti-inflammation supplements, hot and cold compression and stretching. Although it’s important to note that stretching is not always recommended when symptoms are at their peak because it can increase the level of discomfort.

With non-invasive treatments such as chiropractic care becoming more convenient and affordable, it’s unfortunate that many healthcare providers’ first treatment option for sciatica too frequently involves prescription medication. While this may be called for to manage symptoms in some cases, it does not address or solve the cause of the problem. It will only mask it.

If you or someone you know is suffering from sciatica, take comfort knowing there are other options. Drug-free, non-invasive treatment options such as chiropractic care can combat pain and discomfort while addressing the root cause, allowing your body to heal -- all at the same time.

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