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What is Sciatica?

Over the years of treating 100’s of patients with low back pain, many come in complaining of back pain and “sciatica”. But what is “sciatica”, and how is it different from just plain back pain?

Sciatica is pain involving the sciatic nerve, and is experienced when pain travels down the back of the leg. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body and is actually the coalescence of spinal nerves from the fourth lumbar to the third sacral nerve. It’s kind of like those bundles of wires behind you entertainment center at home when they all get twisted together. And, just like that bundle of wires, sometimes stress placed on them can cause them to short.

This giant sciatic nerve runs under your buttock muscles and down your leg; all the way to the bottom of your foot. It provides skin sensation to your entire leg, except your inner thigh. This is why many people will experience tingling, numbness or heightened sensitivity if this nerve is compressed. Also, since it controls the back muscles of your leg, someone suffering from compression or inflammation of the sciatic nerve, may also experience weakness in ankle movement.

But what could compress this nerve?

Well, just like finding the snag in a hose that’s loosing pressure, you gotta find the spot where it’s getting caught up. Sometimes, a herniated or degenerating spinal joint or disc can put pressure on the nerve as it exits the spine. In about 1 in 5 people, this nerve travels through a muscle in the buttocks called the piriformis. In most others, the nerve just goes underneath it. Regardless, the piriformis can spasm and consequently squeeze the nerve; choking off it’s blood supply. We call this “piriformis syndrome“. Other causes could be traumatic injuries or even tumors compressing the nerve. However, spinal degeneration and piriformis syndrome are by far what I see in my office.

What are the options?

The treatment depends on the cause. Your medical physician will likely prescribe NSAIDS (non-steriodal pain relievers), ice and rest. Should those fail to provide relief, other medical options include spinal and intramuscular injections. There are also surgical options to remove the body part placing pressure on the nerve.

Can Chiropractic Help?

As a Chiropractic Physician, I start by finding the root cause of the sciatic pain. If it’s being caused by one of the two most common perpetrators, I know there’s a high likelihood I can help that patient find relief and prevent future re-occurrences. I do this through a tailored program designed to restore proper function to the area(s) involved. Joint Adjustments, Deep Tissue, Stretching and other techniques can be used to relieve the pressure on the nerve. Home exercises can also prevent a subsequent attack. If the sciatica is caused by something more serious, I always advise my patients to the appropriate medical specialist. Over time, more and more medical doctors are now open to working with chiropractic doctors to make sure the patient gets the most appropriate care. In some cases, a combined effort is needed to begin the patient down the road to relief.

If you have any questions regarding Back Pain or Sciatica, please call my office for a free consultation at, 623-587.7463.

Aaron L. Wiegand, DC, CCST