Can Seeing a Chiropractor Help with Sciatica Pain?
When you have sciatica moving about can be painful. Sciatica causes radiating pain through the lower back and down the legs. In 90% of sciatica cases, a herniated disc is to blame. While sciatica gets better over time, seeing a chiropractor can relieve your pain and get you back on your feet.
What Is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body. It’s about the thickness of a thumb. It begins in the lower back and extends to the foot. When a person has sciatica, it’s a sign that the nerve is compressed. Approximately 40% of the population will experience sciatica in their lifetime.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica happens when pressure is placed on the sciatica nerve. Factors that can contribute to sciatica are:
- herniated disc
- spinal stenosis
- degenerative disc disease
- piriformis syndrome
- regular wear and tear from age.
Sciatica pain is often described as sharp and severe. Some people report feeling tingling, numbness and burning in their back, hips, and legs. If you feel any of these symptoms, you call your doctor or chiropractor.
“A doctor of chiropractic can identify what area of the back is causing compression on the sciatic nerve, and do a chiropractic adjustment to remove the nerve interference. This helps identify the cause of the pain, instead of covering up the common symptoms of sciatica with pain medications,” says Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center.
How Will My Doctor Diagnosis Sciatica?
Your chiropractor will collect medical history information from you. They'll ask about the location and severity of your pain, and what aggravates or relieves it. This inquiry is followed by a series of tests—including the Straight Leg Test—that center on your reflexes and muscles. You may be asked to perform stretches or exercises to determine what effect they have on your pain. Nerve tests and imaging are then used to determine the exact cause.
“During the chiropractic history and exam, [your chiropractor] will identify which area is causing the nerve compression, and which direction to improve the compressed area and relieve the nerve irritation. Common orthopedic tests used during the exam to identify sciatica include the Straight Leg Raise Test and Braggard’s Test,” says Conrad.
I've Received A Sciatica Diagnosis, What's Next?
Once you've been diagnosed with sciatica, it's time for treatment. You may have to stop activities like running until your nerve has time to heal. In many cases, adjustments to your spine will help relieve the symptoms. Your chiropractor may also recommend:
- Ice/Cold Therapy: Cold packs to the area can help ease sciatica pain inflammation.
- TENS Unit: These units deliver electrical stimulation to the muscles of problem areas to acute pain.
- Spinal Adjustments: Adjustments made to the vertebra can relieve pain, spasms, and inflammation caused by sciatica.
“Common chiropractic techniques to treat sciatica include diversified and Thompson drop chiropractic adjustments. Also included in sciatica treatment is electrical muscle stimulation with ice to help pain and inflammation, and therapeutic exercises to improve range of motion and core stability. This will help prevent future episodes of sciatica,” says Conrad.
Why Should I Consider Chiropractic Care for My Sciatica Diagnosis?
A chiropractor is trained to work with conditions affecting the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and disorders, like sciatica, that affect those areas. Patients also seek out chiropractors for help with back and neck pain, joints pain in the limbs, and migraines.
“Chiropractors are scientifically educated doctors, who are very aware of the pathologies of disease,” says Dr. Sebastian Kverneland DC, founder Scandinavian Health Institute in Los Angeles, California.
In cases where a chiropractor is appropriate for helping with sciatica, the treatment plan deals directly with finding the causes of the condition and treating it from the root. To do so, your chiropractor will perform a complete assessment before treatment.
“Alongside a thorough history taking, they will be conducting an adequate orthopedic, functional assessment and neurological examination. These findings will determine the x-rays and other tests required to make a proper diagnosis,” says Kverneland.
For most patients, choosing a chiropractor for sciatica care is the most effective means of treatment.
Are There Conditions Where a Chiropractor Can’t Help with Sciatica?
Some conditions that can cause sciatica are outside the reach of your chiropractor. If your sciatica is caused by one of these conditions, a chiropractor may direct you to another specialist. While they can continue to treat you, they'll be focusing on pain management rather than the overall treatment. This may be the case if your sciatica is caused by:
- Herniated Disks: Between each vertebra can be found a piece of cartilage known as a disc. These discs contain a clear gel-like material that cushions the bones of your spine. When the outer layer rips, the disc has become herniated and may need replacement.
- Spinal Stenosis: This term describes a condition where your lower spinal canal has narrowed abnormally putting pressure on your nerves and spinal cord.
- Piriformis Syndrome: Connecting your lower spine to your thighs is the piriformis muscle. Those suffering from piriformis syndrome experience an involuntary contraction or spasm of this muscle resulting in sciatica.
“A patient should definitely see a chiropractor if he/she is suffering from sciatica,” says Kverneland. “Of all the health care professionals, chiropractic is probably the best alternative to address sciatica.”
Can a chiropractor help with sciatica? Yes, working with a chiropractor for sciatica can help relieve your pain. The first step is to consult with your practitioner to find out how he or she can help with your sciatica. You can then discuss treatment options to help eliminate your sciatica pain altogether.