Say Goodbye to Sciatica: How A Brookfield Chiropractor Can Help
Sciatica is a real pain in the … Back? Butt? Leg? Foot?
All of the above?
If you’re dealing with pain, numbness, or weakness that shoots from your lower back down one leg to your foot, you might be experiencing sciatica. From basic tasks like bending over to tie your shoes to simply sitting at your desk, an irritated sciatic nerve can make daily life miserable.
The good news is that you don’t have to endure this pain alone – at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield we can help you find relief from sciatica and get back to enjoying life.
“Look after your body and your body will look after you.”
Dr. Grant Radermacher, Brookfield Chiropractor
Here’s what to know about the painful condition known as sciatica, how to differentiate it from other problems, what causes it, and the most effective strategies for managing and getting rid of the pain – for good.
Sciatica vs. Back Pain
By itself, back pain is an extremely common problem that affects a whopping 85% of the population at some point in their lives. As a back pain specialist in Brookfield I should know – it’s what I spend the majority of every single day helping my patients get relief from.
But before you jump to conclusions and assume you have that much-scarier-sounding condition called sciatica, let’s dive into the facts. Contrary to popular belief, sciatica actually isn’t as common as people assume.
While back pain happens to just about everyone, true sciatica will only ever affect a small percentage of individuals, somewhere between just 2% and 10% of the population.
What causes sciatica?
Your sciatic nerve is the largest, longest nerve in your body, controlling the muscles in the quads, hamstrings and calves, and supplying sensation to the thighs, lower legs, and soles of the feet.
Sciatica is a term for one type of lumbar radiculopathy – pain, numbness and/or weakness caused by compression and inflammation of one of the lumbar nerve roots that combine to form the sciatic nerve. To make matters worse, the pain radiating down the leg is almost always accompanied by some degree of persistent low back pain.
Culprits for this compression/inflammation can include:
- A herniated disc: Also known as a ruptured or slipped disc, in which the gel-like center of an intervertebral disc of the spine pushes through a tear in its outer ring (called the annulus). This ‘slippage’ puts pressure on the nerve roots located just next to the disc. Herniated discs can be brought on by wear-and-tear over time or by an acute back injury. Thankfully, chiropractic treatment has even been shown to be even better than nerve root injections for disc pain symptoms.
- Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the canal through which nerves exit the spine.
- Inflammation and swelling of structures adjacent to the spine: While less common, this can be due to diseases such as tumors or infection or as a result of orthopedic surgery (spinal fusion).
Sciatica doesn’t necessarily result from severe trauma. If the space the nerve root travels through is already compromised – even if you don’t feel it – full-fledged sciatica can be kicked off sneezing or coughing, or simply from lifting something with poor form.
Risk factors for developing sciatica include a previous injury to the lower back or pelvis, an active job that requires heavy lifting, an inactive lifestyle that involves sitting and limited exercise, diabetes, smoking, osteoarthritis and obesity. Weak core and glute muscles can also contribute to the causes of sciatica.
Sciatica is most common in people who are in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. It’s very rare in people who are younger than 20 unless it’s related to another injury.
Pregnant women are more prone to sciatica because of the loosening of ligaments that happens naturally due to hormones during pregnancy, as well as the weight and stress that carrying a baby puts on a mom’s spine.
How do you know if it’s sciatica?
One of the few good things about this condition is that it usually presents with distinctive enough features that it’s pretty clear what you’re dealing with as long as you know what to look for.
Well, that plus the fact that it’s a good excuse to get out of gym class, as Gene from Bob’s Burgers explains.
The hallmark symptom of sciatica is a dull, aching, shooting or “burning” pain that starts in your lower back and/or buttock and radiates down one (not both) of your legs past the knee. These leg symptoms will usually reach all the way to the bottom of the foot.
Other symptoms of sciatica can include:
- Neuropathies such as numbness or a “pins and needles” tingling sensation in one leg.
- Feelings of muscle weakness or deadened reflexes in one leg.
- Symptoms that worsen when you bend over, lift objects, twist, sit down, cough or sneeze.
Furthermore, in sciatica, the leg symptoms are typically much worse than any back pain.
But remember, not all radiating leg pain is necessarily sciatica. There are various ways in which the lumbar roots and sciatic nerve can get into trouble. And even when the nerve appears to be affected, it might not be the underlying cause.
What should you do if you’re experiencing sciatica?
It’s important to see a back pain specialist to distinguish between sciatica and other conditions that can lead to leg pain – like hip osteoarthritis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, piriformis syndrome, or muscle-referral pain. You don’t want to be treating your back when your sacroiliac joint is the one throwing a tantrum.
It’s especially crucial to seek medical attention if the pain persists for more than a week or if it significantly impacts your daily life.
Severe pain, muscle weakness, numbness, or bladder and bowel problems are all red flags that require immediate medical evaluation. Those all mean you need to make an appointment to see your chiropractor or other medical professional as soon as possible, even if it hasn’t been a week – ignoring these symptoms could potentially lead to permanent nerve damage.
The good news? When it comes to treating sciatica, starting with at-home conservative care is almost always the best approach. That means rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and ice packs (aim for 15 minutes of using an ice pack per hour).
If you’re experiencing sciatica, you should also make it a point to keep moving. Find positions that are comfortable, but be as active as possible. Numerous studies have found that there’s no benefit to staying in bed compared with staying active if you have sciatica.
“A lot of people want to rest, and they develop what’s called avoidance behavior, fearing that movement will make the pain worse. But that’s actually the worst thing you could do.”
Dr. Grant Radermacher, Brookfield Chiropractor
How do you fix the root problems that cause sciatica?
So how do you actually fix the problem? The evidence says that two the most effective approaches are non-surgical and drug-free: chiropractic and physical therapy.
A 2015 systematic review published in Spine Journal specifically examined the effectiveness of a number of different treatments for sciatica pain. Researchers concluded that patients who had chiropractic treatment showed some of the most statistically significant improvements in their recovery.
That 2-pronged chiropractic-plus-physiotherapy approach is exactly why what we do to treat sciatica at our chiropractic clinic in Brookfield is so effective. At Ascent Chiropractic, we utilize a variety of non-invasive treatment methods to alleviate the pressure on the lumbar nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve.
We understand that every individual’s body is different and requires a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific condition. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach in our office.
Techniques we utilize at Ascent Chiropractic to treat sciatica include:
- Chiropractic adjustments: realigns and balances the spine to relieve pressure on the lumbar nerve roots
- Soft tissue therapy & myofascial release techniques: deep tissue treatments to naturally restore and mend damaged ligaments, nerves, tendons, and muscles
- Dry needling: insertion of tiny needles into soft tissue to enhance healing and recovery
- Exercise and stretching: help improve stability and flexibility, nurturing joint and soft tissue health
Don’t just take our word for it: spinal manipulation (chiropractic adjustment) is listed as a first-line treatment option for sciatica by both the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
The best exercises for sciatica
Of course, the exact treatment plan that’s going to be best for you is best determined by your chiropractor. Gentle stretching exercises for sciatica, like the ones shown below, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
Disclaimer: exercises performed the wrong way or on spines that have experienced significant degeneration can make your back pain even worse. Check with your doctor first, follow the instructions carefully & focus on slow controlled movements.
1. Bird Dog
At Ascent Chiropractic, we’ll often start with a simple at-home exercise called the bird dog. The bird dog is a great exercise for treating sciatica because it helps to improve your core and glute strength and stability. With a stronger core and glutes, you’ll be able to stabilize the trunk of your body more effectively while reducing the pressure on your lower back.
- Start in an all-four position with your hands and knees on the floor.
- While maintaining a neutral spine, slowly extend the right arm and left leg. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat with the left arm and right leg.
- Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
If the source of the nerve root irritation is a lumbar disc, we’ll opt for passive, progressive extension stretches called McKenzie exercises.
McKenzie exercises are designed to reposition displaced intervertebral discs and help strengthen the surrounding muscles and structures to prevent re-injury. While they can be done at home, it’s important that you start with a foundation set by your doctor to help ensure you’re performing them correctly (and that you should be performing them at all).
The basic McKenzie exercise progression begins with prone (face-down) lying, progressing to prone lying while resting on elbows, and then finally to prone press-ups. Start with prone lying and only progress when the stretch you’re doing doesn’t cause discomfort. Here’s the progression:
1. Prone Lying
- Lie down on your stomach. Place your arms at your sides.
- Turn your head to the side or face down.
- Hold for 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat up to eight times a day.
2. Prone Lying While Resting On Elbows
- Lie down on your stomach. Prop yourself up on your forearms with your shoulders above your elbows.
- Hold for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Lower your upper body. Repeat up to eight times a day.
3. Prone Press-Ups
- Lie down on your stomach. Place your hands under your shoulders.
- Slowly straighten your arms to lift your upper body. Hold for 2 seconds. Return to starting position.
- Complete 10 reps. Repeat up to eight times a day.
What pain-killers work best for sciatica?
Unfortunately, the science says that no pain medication is likely to significantly relieve sciatica pain.
Over-the-counter pain medications are fairly safe and can be somewhat effective in moderation. There are four main kinds: acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol), plus three non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs): aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve).
It’s important to not take any of them chronically — risks go up over time. Acetaminophen can reduce both fever and some types of pain, but doesn’t work well for musculoskeletal pain and can damage your liver. NSAIDs all reduce inflammation, but at any dose they can cause heart attacks, strokes, and GI tract irritation. Aspirin may be best for joint and muscle pain, but it’s the most harsh on your stomach.
Voltaren (topical diclofenac) and Ibuleve (topical ibuprofen) are both NSAIDs in ointment form that are generally much safer than oral NSAIDs.
Short-term treatment with gabapentin (Neurontin), which dulls the conduction of pain messages through the nervous system, can be helpful for some people.
If the above self-care measures don’t provide sufficient relief, your doctor may recommend stronger prescription medications, such as pain-killers, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxers. For severe sciatica — the kind that sends you to the hospital — corticosteroid injections are usually the best pharmaceutical option. They’re much preferable to opioids, which are not nearly as helpful as widely believed.
But even then, epidural corticosteroid injections are typically only indicated for acute cases and aren’t usually helpful for chronic sciatica.
When is surgery necessary for sciatica?
In rare instances where conservative treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is typically reserved for cases where the pain doesn’t respond to non-invasive interventions or there is loss of bowel or bladder control (also known as cauda equina syndrome). The goal of surgery is to address an underlying pathology, such as a herniated disc or bone spur, and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.
But again, surgery is rarely necessary, and studies have shown that 1 to 2 years post-treatment there are virtually no differences between those who elect for invasive surgery and those who choose conservative care options like chiropractic.
What’s more, 5% to 10% of people who opt for surgery to treat their sciatica won’t get relief from it or even have worse pain afterwards.
Ascent Chiropractic Can Help
Sciatica is no joke, but chiropractic care offers a safe, non-invasive, and effective solution to find relief. At our chiropractic clinic in Brookfield we utilize a combination of chiropractic treatment, soft tissue therapy and active exercise rehab to correct the root cause of your sciatica – for good.
Take the first step towards a pain-free life and book your appointment at Ascent Chiropractic today. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. We’re here to support you every step of the way.
Ready to get started?
Call us at 262-345-4166 or use our convenient online scheduling app to make your appointment. Our team is here to support you throughout your journey to recovery. Don’t wait – relief is just a call (or click) away!