Chiropractic treatment can be an effective option for sciatica, a common back problem that affects about 1 in 10 adults in the United States. Common causes of sciatica include genetic predisposition, occupational injuries, trauma, and more. Chiropractic adjustments are highly sought after in rectifying pain and numbness brought on by pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Benefits of Chiropractic for Sciatica
Sciatica is a condition that is characterized by shooting pain and/or numbness originating in the lower back traveling through the hip, and sometimes down the back of the legs. It is a condition that can inhibit mobility, preventing people from being able to work or even daily life activities.
- Tingling and/or burning that runs down one or both legs
- Numbness in one or both legs or even down to the feet
- Persistent pain in the lower back
- Severe pain making it hard to stand
- Leg pain that is worse while sitting
The cause of sciatica can vary widely. Studies have shown genetics could possibly play a role, and others show occupations such as machine operators, truck drivers, etc. can play a role.
Common Causes of Sciatica:
- Odd motions where the spine is vulnerable such as a misstep or even an aggressive sneeze.
- Repetitive day to day activities such as raking leaves or shoveling snow.
- Acute injuries such as a slip or a fall.
- Pressure on the sciatic nerve from a bulging or herniated disc.
- Pressure on the sciatic nerve from something like the piriformis muscle.
There are many people out there that are unfamiliar with the benefits for the spine and beyond that chiropractic adjustments can provide, and regarding sciatica, are unsure if it would make it worse. Since the spinal column holds the nervous system, any herniated discs or misalignment of the spine can lead other issues throughout the body. In the case of sciatica, by restoring proper alignment to the vertebrae, we can free the nervous system to perform correctly.
Chiropractic Providers Treating Sciatica:
- Look for signs of reduction of pain
- Look for signs that the centralization of the pain is moving upwards
- Identify improvements with daily life activities
- Establish improvements in range of motion
Chiropractic care directly addresses the root cause of the sciatica, treats the cause, and alleviates the symptoms.
Sciatica Provider Protocol
Chiropractic providers know that spinal adjustments will undoubtedly aid in the relief from sciatica pain and/or numbness. However, there are also many tools and tricks of the trade at our disposal to give the patient the experience they’re after.
Chiropractic Treatments/Tools for Sciatica:
- TENS Unit – used for pain management and reduction in muscle spasms.
- Spine Decompression Therapy – helpful when working on a patient with sciatica caused by a herniated disc.
- Ice or Cold Therapy – reduces inflammation in the spine caused by sciatica
- Ultrasound – using sound waves, it relieves pain with a gentle heat that penetrates the muscles to increase circulation and decrease stiffness, muscle spasms, and pain.
- Patient At-Home Exercises and/or Stretches – giving the patient tools to continue the benefits of treatment at home is always beneficial.
Obviously, when it comes to providing the patient with information on lifestyle and exercises at home, it is imperative to remember that the exercise recommendations we provide will depend on the patient’s individual needs, the severity of the sciatica, the root cause, their habits, and daily lifestyle.
Examples of At-Home Exercises for Patients with Sciatica:
- Seated Spinal Twist – with legs out in front on the floor, sit up, and bend the right leg while placing the right foot on the outside of the opposite knee. Have the patient twist their body to the right, and hold for 15-30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
- Pigeon Pose – this popular yoga pose is particularly helpful for those with sciatica pain. Place the left leg flat on the ground (knee down) and the right leg in front, bent, with the knee pointing out to the right (the right foot next to the left hand/arm). Depending on the patient’s specific issues, have them slowly lay down on the forearms in this position to feel the stretch in the right thigh and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat, switching legs putting the left leg in front and right leg in the back.
- Knees to Chest – the patient should lay flat on their back, and slowly hug the knees to the chest for 30 seconds. Depending on the patient physical situation, repeat 3 times in a row, and instruct them to do this twice a day.
- Foam Roller – having the patient with sciatica implement a foam roller into their daily at-home exercise, or even for when they come into the office is an amazing way to relieve sciatica pain. The patient will sit on the foam roller with their knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place the right hand on the floor behind the roller while slightly leaning back, and cross the right leg over the left knee. Have the patient roll back and forth on the foam roller, and do for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side. In truth, this exercise is best left for the chiropractic office until the patient is more stable in their sciatica treatment.
- Cobra Stretch – although the treatment will be modified, the mechanics of the stretch are the same. The patient will lie on their stomach with their legs together and extended out with toes pointed. Have the patient rest their forearms and palms close to the body on the floor. Then, slightly straightening the elbows, they will push up from their palms to bring their stomach off the floor, and hold for 5 seconds.
Additionally, it is important to know, that while chiropractic treatment is great for the treatment of sciatica, it is crucial to advise the patient to continue their treatments with other doctors as well and focus chiropractic treatment on pain management when they are experiencing sciatica from certain conditions.
Conditions that cause sciatica:
- Piriformis Syndrome – the piriformis muscle involuntarily spasms resulting in sciatica
- Herniated Discs – the gel-like material contained within the discs of the spine rip, and become herniated.
- Spinal Stenosis – the lower spinal canal is abnormally narrow causing sciatica.
These conditions are treatable with chiropractic, but it is important, depending on the patient history, that we keep in touch with their other providers to create comprehensive care to suit the best interests and spinal health of the patients.
Sciatica & Chiropractic
The most important aspect in treating patients with sciatica is to keep the body moving properly by building core stability, stretches and exercise, and chiropractic manipulation maintenance. Chiropractors across the country successfully treat sciatica daily, restoring normal motion in the patient’s hips, pelvis, and lower back. As with all conditions, it is most important to do an in-depth medical history consultation to determine the proper course of treatment for each patient, providing the treatment options that are unique to the individual.