illustrations of sciatica

Sciatica. Click image to view full size.

The sciatic nerve is a nerve that runs from the lower part of the spinal column down to the thigh, where it divides into two at the knee. The longest and thickest nerve in the body, it is also one of the most susceptible to pain because of its size and location.

There are actually two sciatic nerves: one on either side of the spine. Sciatica occurs when pressure is applied to one of the sciatic nerves. Depending on the source and intensity of the pressure, pain can be felt in the lower back, the buttocks and/or the thigh area. In almost all cases, pain from sciatica is experienced on one side of the body only.


What Causes Sciatica?

A number of conditions can cause sciatica. The most common cause is a herniated disc. Our backs are flexible thanks to the series of discs that make up the spinal column. The discs have a soft, pulpy inner core. When this core leaks out, it becomes “herniated.” The herniated (or bulging) disc presses against the sciatic nerve, causing the pain associated with sciatica.

Other spinal conditions can cause sciatica as well. Some of them are degenerative diseases, while other causes can include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Muscle strain
  • Scar tissue
  • Infection

We often think of sciatica as a disease or disorder, but doctors and chiropractors see it as a symptom. Just as the symptoms of a cold or flu can be treated, so can sciatica.

How Can a Chiropractor Help?

A chiropractor can treat sciatica in a number of ways. The process starts with the initial consultation. Some questions your chiropractor might ask you include:

  • How frequently do you feel the pain and for how long?
  • What do the pain sensations feel like? (burning, throbbing, tingling, etc.)
  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • Does anything make the pain feel worse?
  • Is there anything you have done that reduces the pain? (sitting, lying down, etc.)

During the consultation, your chiropractor can determine the cause and severity of the problem. Depending on the outcome of this consultation, they might:

  • Recommend or begin a course of treatment aimed at reducing pain and improving mobility.
  • Use mobilisation techniques to restore mobility and remodel scar tissue.
  • Xray the spine to rule out other pathologies, if necessary.
  • Your chiropractor will refer you to a medical specialist when your presentation is not in their scope of practice.

If you experience back pain or sciatica, contact a chiropractor first.  Chiropractors use gentle, non-invasive treatments for back pain and sciatica. In most cases, the treatment methods they employ are ideal for pain relief and rapid recovery. Surgery should be the last resort and if your chiropractor feels it is necessary, they won’t hesitate to refer you to an appropriate health care provider.