Sciatica – Home care and treatment options
Sciatica is a condition that can lead to pain in the low back and legs. It occurs when pain travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve forms from spinal nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord in the low back. This nerve then travels through the hip and buttock region, and down the back of the leg to the foot.
There are a range of different causes of sciatica, including:
- Disc prolapse
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Injury to the muscles/joints of the low back, pelvis and hips
Symptoms of sciatica can include pain, tingling and numbness in the leg. The symptoms tend to follow the distribution of the nerve through the back of the thigh, side of the lower leg and into the foot. Although sciatica pain can be severe, most people find their symptoms improve over time.
More severe cases may show weakness in legs and difficulty controlling bowel and bladder. In these cases urgent care is recommended to prevent serious long term damage.
Can you have low back pain and leg pain that is NOT sciatica?
Yes. Sometimes nerves other than the sciatic nerve may be involved. Pain that radiates from the buttocks into the groin area is not sciatica, because this is not where the sciatic nerve travels. Also, imbalance in the hips and pelvis can often cause leg pain similar to sciatica. However, if the pain refers below the knee and into the foot, it is more likely to be ‘true sciatica’.
What are the tests for sciatica?
A chiropractor may perform many different tests for sciatica, including range of movement tests for the low back, muscle stretch reflexes, sensory tests over the legs and muscle strength tests.
One of the most important group of tests are nerve tension tests that stretch or compress the sciatic nerve. An example of this is a Straight Leg Raise – performed in a sitting or supine position. When positive this may reproduce sciatica or low back pain.
There is a lot you can do to help manage sciatica. This includes:
- Avoid sitting for too long – especially in a poorly supporting chair
- Heat and ice – often alternating both is helpful, although heat is likely to be more effective, especially in cool weather
- Keep moving – frequent short walks to tolerance may help
- Avoid bending low and twisting – this places significant strain on the low back discs
There are also certain resting positions and simple exercises that can help relieve sciatica. These include anti-gravity position, low back extension and foramen opening exercise. To see videos of these exercises, click here.
Sciatica can often be self-managed, but because it is usually a more serious condition than simple low back pain, seeing a chiropractor is usually a very good idea. Having a diagnosis and a plan of action, can go a long way to improving sciatica.
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