What is Sciatic Nerve Pain?
The word sciatica refers to a specific, painful condition affecting the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs out of your lower back, and down your leg to your foot. However, in today’s common usage, the term sciatic nerve pain can mean any condition that causes pain, numbness or tingling to go from the back down to the leg.
What can cause pain to shoot from your back to your leg? Most of the time a nerve is involved since that is what carries the pain signals from your leg to your brain. When that pathway gets interrupted the brain doesn’t know exactly where the problem is so it interprets the problem as being all along the length of the nerve. That is why you can feel pain or symptoms all the way to your toes, even if there is nothing actually wrong with your feet.
Some of the more common things that can cause radiating pain are:
- Herniated discs
- Piriformis syndrome
- Muscle spasm
- Sacroiliac misalignment
What is a Herniated Disc?
Commonly blamed for many different types of low back or neck pain, a herniated disc is actually a very specific and difficult injury that can affect the nerves in the legs and can put you out of commission for weeks or months. Here is some information that can help you avoid this condition, or help to start the repair process after it happens.
- Anatomy – The spinal discs are spacers in between the bones of your back and neck that cushion movement and allow you to move, twist and bend.
- What goes wrong – Normally, the discs are very strong and flexible. But the march of time, and small, repeated injuries due to posture can weaken them and make them susceptible to injury. The discs in the lower back are at their most vulnerable when you bend forward and twist to one side. If you have to bend your back while lifting something heavy, don’t twist!
- Uncomfortably numb – The discs are located right next to the nerves as they come out of the spine. When the discs are injured, they can bulge out the same way an ice cream sandwich pushes out when you squeeze one side. This bulge can push on nerves causing pain, numbness or weakness in your arms and legs.
- The road to relief – The treatments all revolve around getting the disc back where it belongs to allow it to heal. At our chiropractic office in Norwalk, CT, we stretch the spine vertically to pull the bulge away from the nerve, and we teach you how you can use the sphinx position at home or an over the door traction kit to speed up the recovery process.
With a strange name like that it sounds horrible, but it is actually a common condition in the lower back. The piriformis (meaning pear-shaped in Latin) is a muscle that goes from your tailbone to your hip bone. Its responsibility is to rotate your leg out to the side. It can be injured when overused, just like any other muscle, especially in twisting motions, like a golf swing. Runners often complain of pain in this area as the piriformis muscle needs to stabilize the leg while it moves. However, the most common way to injure this muscle is to sit on it wrong. It happens to be located exactly where a wallet in the back pocket presses into your butt. Adding to the issue is that the sciatic nerve runs over, under or even through the piriformis. So when it is inflamed, or is in spasm, it can squeeze the sciatic nerve. That causes sciatic nerve pain to shoot down the leg. If this condition is missed, it can lead to unnecessary treatments or even surgery.
The squeezing of a nerve described above can happen with any muscle. Many of the nerves in the lumbar or brachial plexus are in close proximity to the muscles of the spine as they exit the back or neck and travel down to the arms and legs. If an injury or misalignment causes the wrong muscle to spasm, the nearby nerves can also be irritated leading to numbness and tingling in your hands or feet.
Sometimes pain into the legs is not coming from a nerve at all. The sacroiliac joint is the connection between the legs and the spine. All the force you generate while walking or moving has to go through this joint in order for you to stay upright. Many things can cause a misalignment in this joint, like sitting all day, sleeping wrong, or lifting something awkwardly. Sometimes it can seem like something very insignificant causes an inordinate amount of pain (see Why does it hurt even if I didn’t do anything). Whatever the cause, when this joint is not working right, it can send something similar to sciatic nerve pain down the back of the leg or into the groin.
Can a chiropractor help with Sciatic nerve pain?
Dr French sees these conditions every day, and chiropractic is very helpful in relieving back pain with or without leg symptoms. Misalignments in the spine can cause pain on their own or cause problems with the way your body moves. Dr French specializes in the non surgical treatment of back pain. He can figure out what is causing your symptoms and get you back to your normal life quickly.
If you are in the Norwalk, CT area, contact us with questions, or click below to make an appointment directly with our office.