An image showing the sciatica nerve in the lower back.

What is sciatica?

Have you ever heard the term sciatica and wondered what it means?  Sciatic pain, or radiating pain down the back of the leg, is a debilitating condition that affects a large population of individuals.  Patients who suffer from this condition will complain of pain and/or numbness and tingling down the back of their leg.  To make matters worse, it is often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause or source of sciatica.  As with other types of pain in our bodies, sciatic leg pain can be caused by a large multitude of tissues and structures.

How does sciatica happen?

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body.  It originates in the low back and proceeds to travel down the back of our legs and down to our feet.  Along the way, it branches off several times to innervate the surrounding musculature.  When this nerve becomes irritated it will produce the trademark leg pain.  Most commonly, disc herniations/bulges are the main culprits.  However, sciatica can be the result of arthritic changes, inflamed muscles, or just general inflammation in the body.  These causes of pain can be unpredictable.  For every time someone experiences instant low back and leg pain from twisting or lifting something wrong (trauma); there is somebody who experiences a gradual increase in discomfort with no known event to cause the pain (posture, walking/running habits, footwear, etc.).  The wide spectrum of causes and sources of sciatica make it a tricky issue to diagnose and treat.

An MRI showing an L4/L5 and L5/S1 disc herniation

What can I do to relieve sciatic nerve pain?

Dealing with sciatica can be a challenging task.  It is recommended to visit a health professional, such as a chiropractor, in order to properly manage the condition.  Establishing the source of irritation to the sciatic nerve requires a thorough history taking and evaluation.  Chiropractic physicians see this condition on a daily basis.  Orthopedic, neurological, and movement based examinations are used to determine an accurate diagnosis.  Treatment for sciatic induced leg pain starts with finding a position that provides relief and establishing which positions exacerbate the symptoms.  Through an assortment of techniques, chiropractors can address sciatica pain by first relieving the pain and then improving the patient’s function to assure long term relief.  Treatment typically consists of spinal manipulation and flexion-distraction, soft tissue therapy, McKenzie protocol, and functional rehabilitation.  The goal is to reduce the leg pain as quickly as possible and then to address the underlying cause in the low back.

The Best Exercise for Sciatica