Pain that starts in the low back and slowly starts to creep down the leg could be a condition called sciatica which is a compression of the sciatic nerve. Now that’s a general descriptor, as there are many variations of sciatica related symptoms; Spine-Health.com lists a number of different versions, including:
- Constant pain in only one side of the buttock or leg, but rarely in both sides
- Pain typically described as sharp or searing, rather than dull
- A “pins-and-needles” sensation, numbness or weakness, or a prickling sensation down the leg in some cases
- Weakness or numbness when moving the leg or foot
- Severe or shooting pain in one leg, making it difficult to stand up or walk
- Pain and other symptoms in the toes, depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected
- Lower back pain that, if experienced at all, is not as severe as leg pain
Any of these descriptions can leave people feeling like the pain is “killing them”, it’s that bad. There are lots of resources like the many listings on Mercola.com to help guide people, but until it’s properly diagnosed from a live professional, you may do yourself more harm than good.
Is Sciatica Common?
Stats Canada confirms what most people feel – 80+ percent of Canadians will experience some form of back pain in their lifetime – it’s not clear how many will
manifest into Sciatic pain and problems, but this is a substantial figure NOT to be ignored. You’re not alone, and it’s crucial to not let this suggest to you that “there’s nothing that can be done”, because there is.
There are a number of possible causes of sciatica; spinal stenosis in the lumbar spine, tension or spasm in the piriformis muscle (see image), lumbar disc herniations or spinal degeneration, and sacro-iliac joint (SI-joint) dysfunction. In my professional opinion after more than 14 years and many sciatica cases presenting themselves, the most prevalent causes relate to lumbar spine misalignments, which may or may not have disc herniation/degeneration involved, and SI-joint dysfunction.
But I’ve tried treating the leg pain or buttock pain with no results…
Unfortunately when people start feeling leg pain either moderately or severely, their first thought is to treat the leg, and apply ice, heat, gels, creams and the like. Their natural focus is where the symptoms are. Some are compelled to stretch the tight muscles, or pop plenty of pain meds; sadly I can share that nerve pain is RARELY quenched by anything over the counter, let alone stronger prescriptions. It’s the body telling you quite clearly, to “get off it’s back!”
Massages, sometimes acupuncture, can be temporary helpers, and while in many cases physiotherapy can work wonders, there may be times when it’s too much of a spinal issue to relieve the level of pain.
Digging deeper than the sciatica symptoms on the surface
If you’ve been told that your problem is muscular, it’s only partially true. If there is a spinal misalignment or a joint isn’t functioning properly, your muscles may not relax on their own. If there is a spinal joint out of alignment, it can interfere with the communication of a nerve which controls muscles. Therefore causing an abnormal firing pattern making the muscle weak or tight. Which as a result, can cause further sciatic-like pain.
And frustration upon frustration later, when the leg hasn’t changed, desperation seeks in – sadly chiropractors are last on many people’s “help-me” list, even though the source and dominant cause is stemming from a spinal-nerve trauma, that we get great results with! The basic anatomy and how the body works tell us that any extremity pain, whether it be in the arm or leg, almost always needs inflammation of the corresponding nerve pathway – which for sciatica, is WITHIN the lumbar spine.
Start helping yourself – Sciatica exercises and stretches
- ICE/cryotherapy – Applied correctly and consistently, this natural anti-inflammatory won’t negatively impact on your organs (toxicity) like it’s pharmaceutical counterparts.
- Approximately 15 minutes per session, and a soft pack or frozen peas work best, with a protective fabric (t-shirt, kitchen dish cloth, or similarly thin fabric) to ensure you don’t freeze or aggravate the skin.
- Applied every hour is safe, and for those having trouble falling asleep, lay on your back, knees slightly elevated, and use cold therapy right in bed – the temperature effects will wear off without overcooling you.
- Where? Your lower back – remember, the nerves that join to create your sciatic nerve come from your lumbar spine (ese image) – and THIS is where any inflammation will be the biggest problem.
- Yoga therapy/gentle stretching/foam rolling – not for everyone – those with more severe inflammation or muscle tightness/rigidity may have a negative response.
- Newer cases (a few months or less) may benefit from stretching and decompressing the lower back, the piriformis muscles, and the hip flexors – all muscle groups that get restricted from sitting or being static all day, and let’s face it, most of you unfortunately can identify with this. If you’re “that case” where you feel better when you move, but worse when you stop – you have tight and tired muscles, and this should help you. When using a foam roller – be gentle – and expect some initial discomfort before any relief sets in.
- You’ll want to talk to an instructor about your level of sensitivity, and incorporate any bolsters or modified poses to avoid overstimulation; stop all activities if they cause the slightest aggravation – an inflamed state is already stretching and irritating the nerves, so some people truly don’t respond well to these efforts.
- Gentle strength training – when muscles are tight, they are also generally weak – without enough power and endurance, a muscle is simply going to stay tight.
- Focus your attention on your glutes (your bum muscles) – they are meant to support you and your upright posture much more than your back is; focus on your “core” – make sure abdominal stimulation is part of your regime, think about exercises like Planks and hanging knee lifts versus traditional situps (less stretching and aggravation); your hamstring muscles tend to be weaker than quadriceps as well – give them some love.
The research supports it
I published a case study review a few years ago sharing about the efficacy of chiropractic adjustments (manipulation); among the many studies, here are a few headline results:
- “Manipulation [chiropractic adjustments], with or without exercise, improved symptoms more than medical care did after both 3 and 12 months.”– British Medical Journal
- “Chiropractor’s manipulation of the spine was more helpful than any of the following: traction, massage, biofeedback, acupuncture, injection of steroids into the spine and back corsets, and ultrasound.” — Stanley Bigos, MD, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery
- Tim Mick, DC, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Radiology at Northwestern Health Sciences University says, “…Untreated, sciatica can lead to a loss of muscle strength and muscle size that may be irreversible. Eventually, there can be problems with gait.”
Exploring a different approach…
If you’re finding yourself at an impasse or not getting the relief you want, proper evaluation should include at least a nerve scan to evaluate any stress on the nerves, an x-ray to evaluate the alignment of the lower back, and possibly orthopedic testing of the back, pelvis, knee and ankle areas. Many people receive the orthopedic testing with other professionals – but the nervous system tests are not performed.
This is where we are different – We utilize postural analysis, 3 nervous system scans to evaluate stress, and standing x-rays of all relevant spinal regions to confirm if the cause is structural and neurological in nature.