Sciatica is a problem I commonly see people walk (or more likely hobble or limp) into my office with in varying degrees of severity, from a slight numbness or tingling of the legs or feet to what’s been described to me as “a lightning bolt pain in the..” (well- you guessed it).
So what exactly is happening ?
The sciatic nerve is about the width of your thumb, is the largest nerve in the body, and is made up of smaller nerves that leave the spinal cord of the low back, join together, and travel under the muscles of the buttocks and carries on down the legs.
I find that the pain experienced with sciatica is usually caused by the following:
– A misalignment of the vertebrae of the low back putting pressure on one or more of these nerves leaving the spinal cord in the low back (caused by a single injury, or many small stresses on the spine over time such as poor posture while sitting).
– A spasm of the piriformis muscle (one of the muscles in the buttock that the sciatic nerve passes under) putting pressure on the sciatic nerve itself (this is sometimes referred to as piriformis syndrome).
– A pelvic misalignment causing one of the above (and caused by a single injury or many small stresses on the pelvis over time).
– A combination of any of the above.
So what can be done about it?
The first priority in dealing with the pain caused by sciatica (or sciatic radiculopathy) is in finding out exactly where the issue is. At my clinic this is done by using
video motion xray of the low back to determine which vertebrae are likely causing nerve irritation by observing which ones are misaligned, not moving correctly, in which direction, and making note of the direction the vertebrae must be moved to correct it.
Next the video or static (still xray) is used to see exactly how the pelvis is sitting structurally so that if there is some amount of structural shifting or tilting (misalignment) we can see exactly what this might be and how to correct it.
A thermal scan of the skin of the back is used to track the improvement of nerve system function throughout the healing process to really make sure that the adjustments I’m giving are making a positive impact (apart from how the individual is feeling!)
Besides giving chiropractic adjustments meant to realign the spine and pelvis I will usually include assisted stretching of the piriformis muscle in case it is a partial cause of the problem and to improve flexibility in the affected area.
How long will it take to feel better?
Many people feel great improvement even after one visit, however the vast majority of people improve slowly over the course of a period of care depending on the overall health of their spine, their general health and well-being, and how long they’ve had the issue or related issues.
What’s the bigger picture for your health?
Nerves that leave the low back (the lumbar spine) make up the the sciatic nerve but nerves leaving this area ALSO supply messages from the brain which control digestion, the sexual organs, the urinary bladder, the colon, sensation to the skin in this area, the muscles in this area, etc.
Misaligned vertebrae in this area could very well be affecting the health and function of these other organs- by putting pressure or irritation on the nerves supplying them- all the more reason to find the root cause of the problem, fix it, and keep it that way!
(This article can also be viewed at allthingshealing.com)
Victoria Chiropractor Dr. Mark Smith’s practice ‘Progressive Chiropractic’ is conveniently located on the corner of Shelbourne and McKenzie in the Gordon Head region of Saanich near UVIC and is the only chiropractic office in Victoria using low-level videofluoroscopy xray of the spine.