Can A Chiropractor Help With Sciatica?
Sciatica: How can a chiropractor help?
You’re living your life, minding your own business and – BAM! – it hits you out of nowhere like a lightning bolt. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon for patients walking through our doors at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield to report that they were totally blindsided by the sudden pain of sciatica. But what is it, and why is it happening?
If you’re feeling sharp electric-jolt-type pain, burning, tingling, numbness, or weakness somewhere along the line from your lower back to your foot, you might have sciatica.
Although more than 85% of people will deal with back pain at some point in their lives, only about 40% will ever actually experience true sciatica. And if you’re in that unlucky 40%, I don’t have to tell you how miserable it can be.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is a thick bundle of smaller nerve roots – L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3 – that branch off each side of your spinal cord. The sciatic nerve has an important job – specifically, controlling the muscles and providing feeling in your thighs, groins, lower legs, and feet.
If anything compresses these nerve roots it can severely affect their ability to perform these jobs, leading to the debilitating symptoms we call sciatica.
Despite how severe sciatica pain can be, it doesn’t have to result from severe trauma. Sometimes a cough or sneeze, or simply bending the wrong way, can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, making an invisible problem suddenly much more visible.
Culprits can include a disc herniation (when one of the impact-absorbing cushions between your vertebra bulges in a way it shouldn’t), degeneration (loss of the normal structure and the associated calcification that can develop on the edge of a bone or joint in response to chronic biomechanical stress), or a narrowing of the openings in your spine where nerve roots exit (spinal stenosis).
The sciatic nerve can also be compressed as it passes underneath a muscle called the piriformis deep in the buttock – leading to piriformis syndrome, which can produce similar sciatica-like symptoms.
The easiest way to distinguish sciatica from other problems is that it usually causes pain extending from your lower back, through your butt and thigh, and past your knee to your calf and foot. However, it’s possible to experience symptoms pretty much anywhere along the nerve depending on which part of the sciatic nerve is being compressed.
Effective sciatica treatments
If you’re currently dealing with sciatica, experts are nearly unanimous on recommending conservative care first – that means chiropractic and physical therapy before more invasive procedures.
Current guidelines recommend that pain medications should only be used for very short periods at very low doses, as medications (even opioids) show little effectiveness in reducing sciatica symptoms.
Chiropractic treatment can restore normal motion and positioning of the spine, reducing pressure on intervertebral discs and opening the spaces where the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve exit the spinal column. At Ascent Chiropractic, we combine chiropractic care with advanced soft tissue therapy techniques to ease spasms and strengthen weak muscles, which can help improve long-term stability.
What the research says
Here’s the good news: clinical trials have shown that as few as six treatments by a chiropractor can be nearly as effective at relieving sciatica symptoms as spinal decompression/microdiscectomy surgery.
The study, published in JMPT, enrolled 40 sciatica patients whose symptoms had not improved after at least three months. The results after treatment? 85% of the surgery group and 60% of the spinal manipulation group reported relief from their sciatica symptoms.
Interestingly enough, the participants who opted for surgery after 12 weeks of chiropractic achieved the same success rates as those who initially had surgery, but those who switched to chiropractic care post-surgery weren’t successful. In other words, if you’re not one of the 60% of sciatica patients who get relief with chiropractic care, you still have surgery as a second option, but not the other way around.
“The obvious risk and cost of surgical treatment argues for serious doctor and patient consideration of spinal manipulative therapy before surgery.”
– Gordon McMorland, National University of Health Sciences
What’s more, other clinical trials have shown that there’s no difference in outcomes between conservative-care approaches (like chiropractic/physical therapy) and surgery for sciatica patients at the one or two-year marks.
Sciatica: The bottom line
Sciatica can be miserable, but there are zero reasons to suffer with it. What we do at Ascent Chiropractic for sciatica is safe, proven, and should be your first option before considering invasive surgical intervention. Ready to get started? Schedule an appointment by calling us at 262-345-4166 or using our online scheduling app.
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