Causes and Medical Treatments of Sciatic Pain
Sciatica pain can interfere with one’s daily life. It could limit the amount of exercise a person can do, and it can feel debilitating. Medical treatments may include various pain-relieving pills, but they do not address the underlying causes of sciatic pain. Chiropractic treatments can help reduce pain and inflammation and improve range-of-motion for a patient.
“Sciatica refers to pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg.” Various factors can cause this, such as pregnancy, injury, or other kinds of pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica itself is not a medical condition, but it is a symptom of other medical problems. It could be caused by “slipped disc… piriformis syndrome… pelvic injury… tumors”. The pain can range from mild to burning, and it is often a one-sided pain. Pain may worsen after standing or sitting for long periods, bending too far, at night, or from sneezing or coughing. Doctors may recommend heat, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications. If these methods do not work, injections might be prescribed. Sciatic pain can recur, and more serious complications can develop, such as a “slipped disc or spinal stenosis”.1 These treatments do not deal with the underlying source of the pain, however.
Chiropractic vs. Medical
Chiropractors and medical doctors do agree that bed rest is not recommended. Exercises to strengthen the abdomen and improve flexibility are encouraged.2,3 Some exercises used to combat and heal the sciatic pain include reclining, forward, and sitting pigeon poses.
All of the pigeon poses involve some form of bending and stretching the knees. Reclining pigeon pose is performed while lying flat on the floor. The right leg is then lifted up to a right angle where the hands are clasped behind the thigh, interlocking the fingers. The left leg is then also lifted and bent, with the right ankle placed on top of the left knee. The position is held before being repeated with the legs switched. In sitting pigeon pose, the right leg is bent and the ankle is rested across the left knee. The patient then leans forward, reaching for their toes for a few seconds before switching sides.
Finally, the forward pigeon pose begins with kneeling, on the floor, on all fours. The right leg is in front, bent to lie horizontally across the body while the left leg is straight back with the top of the foot on the ground. The pose is completed with the torso resting on the right leg, head touching the ground, before the legs are switched. These are just three examples of the type of exercise performed to promote flexibility and strength.4
Chiropractic and Sciatica
Sciatic pain tends to start in the low back and travel down the leg(s). It can be dull and achy or be as intense as “electric shocks”. Sciatica is a referred/radiation pain that can also be called “neuropathy” or “neuralgia”. Chiropractors feel that it is caused by “sciatic nerve compression”, from spine subluxations or misalignment of the spine. Other causes include herniated/bulging or slipped discs, childbirth, pregnancy, tumors, or even “non-spinal disorders”, such as “constipation, sitting on one’s wallet, or diabetes. The piriformis muscle of the lower spine can be injured or irritated by a fall or arthritis. This can lead to spasms and pinching of the sciatic nerve. Like medical doctors, chiropractors will use ice and cold therapy. Chiropractors, however, will also use other treatments, instead of pain medications. These can include ultrasound, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), and spinal manipulation adjustments.5
When to See a Chiropractor
Sciatic pain is not something to ignore. It can damage nerves and cause “paresthesia and weakened bladder function”. Waiting for the pain to become “unbearable” can cause more problems; therefore, seeing a chiropractor when the pain begins is key. After the chiropractor reviews the patient’s medical history and performs an exam (perhaps with x-rays), then treatment options could be discussed. Spinal manipulation, massage, ultrasound, and ice therapy can then begin to give the patient long-term relief.6
Massage Can Also Ease Sciatica
Massage is another therapy that could also relieve sciatic pain. This is because lower back muscles that have become tight might place stress on the roots of the sciatic nerves. Massage is utilized to loosen the muscles and prevent irritation or pinching. In tandem with this, massage encourages the pain-fighting endorphins to be released, though this kind of relief is more temporary and the downtime should be used to work on exercises to fight sciatica in the long term.
The American Massage Therapy Association has a list that can be searched for local, licensed massage therapists. The same list screens out those who are practicing massage illegally, so it is a reliable source of potential masseuses. If massage therapy from a professional is inaccessible at the moment, high-quality massage chairs and self-massage can provide a quick solution. The self-massage utilizes tennis balls and a chair or other solid backing to put pressure on points where the patient’s own hands cannot reach. There are a variety of solutions to treating sciatica beyond taking prescribed drugs.7
1, 2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001706/
Find out more about what a chiropractor does for sciatica.