Sharp, shooting pain running down one or both legs, accompanied by numbness and weakness that make normal physical activity difficult (if not outright impossible). If that describes your present state of affairs, then you may have sciatica – one of the most common forms of back pain.
Two out of five Americans experience sciatica at some point during their lifetimes. Middle-aged men are more likely to have sciatica, although younger people and women can suffer from it as well. Whoever they are, people who have sciatica typically report pain and decreased mobility – both of which deter them from living active lifestyles.
What Is Sciatica?
“Sciatica” is a broad-ranging diagnosis. It refers to any pain that travels through the sciatic nerve, which runs down the back of the leg where it serves both mobility and sensory functions.
Sciatica has multiple possible causes. It most frequently occurs when a herniated disc or bone spur places pressure against the sciatic nerve. Alternatively, it may appear as a symptom of spinal stenosis (in which the space within the spinal canal narrows), spondylolisthesis (in which vertebrae slip out of place), or piriformis syndrome (in which a muscle in the buttocks narrows and spasms). Sciatica may also result from injury, cancer or degenerative disc disease
What Treatments Are Available With Sciatica?
Medical science has developed several treatments for such a prevalent condition. These include drugs such as anti-inflammatories, pain-numbing opioids, and even antidepressants. Corticosteroid injections, which also reduce inflammation, are commonly prescribed for sciatica as well.
Severe cases of sciatica, which may be caused by badly herniated disks or very large bone spurs, may be treated through surgery. This invasive treatment option is typically reserved for patients who experience difficulty controlling their bladders or bowels. In other words, surgery is rarely treated as the first and best treatment for a case of sciatica.
Physical therapy is preferred by many sciatica patients who seek a non-pharmacological and non-surgical intervention for their condition. The ideal physical therapy program for treating sciatica depends on the patient’s unique health condition and history, although it typically includes exercises that strengthen muscles around the sciatic nerve and make them more flexible.
Chiropractic care includes several modalities that are demonstrably effective at treating sciatica. These include spinal manipulation, which gently repositions the vertebrae so they are more optimally aligned, the Graston Technique, which accelerates recovery from sciatica by breaking up myofascial adhesions, and dry needling, which releases muscle knots so they no longer place pressure against the sciatic nerve.
What Can You Do to Stay Active With Sciatica?
If you believe you have sciatica and would like to attempt to treat it yourself, then your best course of action may seem counterintuitive. Instead of nursing the pain while lying in bed, what you actually want to do is move your body!
Physical exercise has several benefits for sciatica. It strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine so they can provide better support. Exercise can also increase flexibility, reduce the perception of pain, and accelerate healing by boosting blood flow throughout all areas of the body.
Any physical movement can be helpful when you have sciatica. Walking, gardening, and even light housework will strengthen spinal muscles (or at the very least protect them against further atrophy). If you would like to try home exercises that specifically target muscles affected by the sciatic nerve, then these are the four you should prioritize:
1. Pelvic tilt – Lie on your back. Exhale, and tighten your abdominal muscles while flattening your lower back against the floor. Repeat ten times, holding the position for five seconds each time.
2. Knee to chest – Lie on your back. Use your hands to gently pull either knee toward your chest. Hold 10 seconds, release, and repeat with the other knee. Once you have alternately pulled back either knee three to five times, pull both toward your chest simultaneously and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat three to five times.
3. Lower trunk rotations – Lie on your back. Bend your knees so both feet are flat against the floor. Holding both knees together, rotate them to one side and hold for three to five seconds. Contract your abdominal muscles, and rotate your knees to the opposite side for three to five seconds. Repeat up to 10 times.
4. Opposite arm and leg extension – Position yourself on all fours. With your back straight and abdominal muscles contracted, raise one leg and extend it outward for three to five seconds. Return that leg beneath you and extend the other in the same fashion. Repeat 10 times.
If movement only seems to worsen the pain of sciatica, then you should strongly consider seeking professional care. If you would rather take the safer, gentler approach to sciatica treatment, consult a physical therapist or chiropractor first, as neither of these health professionals administer treatments that include drugs or surgery.
If you live in the greater Fargo, ND area and are suffering from sciatica, then we welcome you to schedule an appointment at Fargo Spine today. In addition to chiropractic care, we offer dry needling, SoftWave Therapy, and sport injury therapy that can help any sciatica patient recover their full mobility and live free of pain!