Working as a chiropractor in Leeds, the phrase “I think I have sciatica”, is one of the most common things I hear. But what exactly is sciatica and what can a chiropractor do to help sciatica? Leeds chiropractor Alison Eaves, at Revive Chiropractic in Adel explains all.
The term sciatica is commonly misused. Sciatica describes low back pain with accompanying leg pain. It is not just leg pain into the buttocks or the back of the thigh, to be true sciatica, the pain must travel past the knee and into the calf and sometimes the foot. It may be accompanied with pins and needles or numbness in certain areas of the leg. Sciatica is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve as it exits the low back and if the compression is severe then you may experience pins and needles & numbness as well as pain.
What causes Sciatica?
This largely depends on the age of the patient and the mechanism of injury. In younger patients, aged between 20-50 years old, the most common cause for sciatica is lumbar disc bulge or herniation. This is when trauma, such as heavy lifting or repeated twisting, can cause a tear in the lumbar disc. This allows the liquid core of the disc to bulge outwards so the disc puts pressure directly onto the sciatic nerve. Usually this is very painful and you may be unable to sit for any length of time.
In older patients, aged 50 plus, it is often degenerative changes in the lumbar disc and the bony vertebrae that lead to compression of the sciatic nerve. Pressure on the spinal joints from everyday ‘wear and tear’ can cause extra bone to grow around the joint (osteophyte formation). If the extra bony bits grow in the wrong place they can compress or catch on the sciatic nerve. The lumbar discs also start to lose height and this has the effect of narrowing the space where the nerves leave the spine and again can increase the chance of the nerve becoming compressed.
A third cause is spondylolisthesis, when one vertebra slips forward on another. It may be caused by trauma or degenerative changes due to ageing. It is less common than the other two causes and in many cases a minor slip will not cause any symptoms.
Can a chiropractor help Sciatica?
Yes! There are many different techniques a chiropractor can use to treat sciatica. In simple terms we work to mobilise the joints of the spine to relieve pressure on the nerve and the disc. Treatment may consist of spinal manipulation or more gentle stretching and mobilisation techniques. Chiropractors will also give home exercises to increase core stability that will support the spine.