What Really Is Sciatica?
"Sciatica" is an older term describing the symptoms of inflammation of the sciatic nerve, also known as sciatic neuritis. Sciatica involves radiating pain down the back of one lower extremity, usually including the back of the thigh and back of the calf, possibly extending into the foot. Sciatica pain may be described as sharp, shooting, gnawing, and/or burning, and may be accompanied by numbness and tingling. Intensity may range from mild to severe and frequency may range from occasional to constant. The onset is generally gradual and not necessarily triggered by an event!
When lower back pain is accompanied by radiating lower extremity pain, it is useful to attempt to assess the relative distributions of such pain. If low back pain predominates or low back pain and sciatica pain are fairly equal in distribution (approximately 50% of the pain is in the low back and approximately 50% of the pain is in the lower extremity), then the sciatica pain may likely be caused by mechanical dysfunction in the low back.
If sciatica is associated with a herniated disc, then leg and buttock pain will be the dominant symptom, compared with low back pain. In the case of a herniated disc, there may also be leg muscle weakness and diminished sensation in the affected leg. Pain that radiates only to the buttock and thigh is probably not related to irritation of the sciatic nerve, but rather to mechanical disorders of the low back and/or sacroiliac joint.
What is the Primary Natural Solution for Sciatica?
Regular chiropractic care is a primary natural remedy for sciatic pain. Regular chiropractic care detects and corrects spinal dysfunction that may be a source of sciatica pain. For example, altered spinal biomechanics may impinge and irritate spinal nerves, causing nerve inflammation and associated radiating pain. By helping to restore optimal spinal biomechanical function and relieve sources of nerve irritation, regular adjustments help restore the integrity of the sciatic nerve and reduce inflammatory pain and other symptoms.3
The Living Pure Solution
1. Chiropractic and Acupuncture: In addition to in-office care of chiropractic or acupuncture (or a combo of the two). Both are effective at balancing systems of the body (the nervous system and meridian energy pathways, respectively). Some patients respond better to one or the other or both. This is recommended by our treating doctors during the initial evaluation and progress assessments as you move through your protocol!
2. Ice applications in the acute phase of pain (within 24 hours of the onset of pain) where it feels hot and/or inflamed. Ice can be applied to the lower back for 15 minutes every few hours to help reduce associated muscle pain, muscle spasm, and sciatic nerve inflammation. Make sure you wrap the ice in a thin towel and avoid placing the cold pack directly on the skin.
3. Gentle stretching for the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips rotators and calf muscles will assist in restoring optimal biomechanical functioning to both the trunk and the legs.
4. Mild exercise, including walking, gentle yoga and riding a stationary bike, will similarly assist in the process of recovery.
5. Check your eating and drinking habits. Is your diet clean and free of sunthetic chemicals, preservatives, sugar? Is your caffeine and alcohol consumption kept at a minimum? Biochemical stress from what we put into our bodies significantly contribute to the inflammatory process, making sciatica a miserable problem and at the same time, increasing your risk factors for chronic and deadly diseases!
Reducing the symptoms of sciatica is just a temporary solution. The real deal is staying consistent with your home regimen of self care (#2 -#5 above) and maintaining regular visits with your chiropractor or acupuncturist. This will mitigate the daily physical stress which triggers those annoying repeat episodes. The result? No toxic side effects ( ie: medications) and the reduced inflammation and reduced risk of advanced degeneration which may lead to invasive pain management treatments (injections or even surgery).
So, can sciatica be resolved naturally? Many cases we see are due to functional disturbance in the structures of the spine and pelvis (bones, muscles, tendons etc). These normally stem from postural stress over time and suboptimal to poor lifestyle habits, however, these cases tend to respond well to natural care. A moderate to severe disc herniation for example may very likely benefit from conservative care but each case is different. Factors to consider are age, past trauma and current lifestyle habits. Some patients do need medical management, however if so, using these natural techniques can work effectively with medical care for improvement with decreased side effects.
Weighing the costs of natural care against late stage medical treatments is a matter of how much you want to control your health and your level of function down the road....and your wallet.
Living Pure Chiropractic & Acupuncture
1Ramaswami R, et al: Management of Sciatica. N Engl J Med 376(12):1175-1177, 2017
2Deyo RA, Mirza SK: Clinical Practice. Herniated Lumbar Intervertebral Disk. N Engl J Med 374(18):1763-1772, 2016
3Lewis RA, et al: Comparative clinical effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and network meta-analyses. Spine J 15(6):1461-1477, 2015