Constant hip pain. Pain and numbness that runs down the back of the legs. Pain and tingling in the center of your butt. If you can relate, chances are you’ve been suffering from sciatica pain on some level.
Though sciatica pain is actually incredibly common, affecting around 40% of adults, it remains largely misunderstood. Why? The road to sciatica pain is varied and can have different triggers for different people, making it more difficult to diagnose the root of the problem. But once you understand why the pain is happening, you’ll be able to seek the correct treatment needed to put your pain to bed for good.
What Is Sciatica Pain?
So…what exactly is sciatica pain, and why is it so prevalent?
The sciatic nerve is important for a healthy, functioning body. This nerve branches from your lower back, extends down through your hips and buttocks, and down your legs. When this nerve becomes pinched or compressed, it can shoot pain from your lower back all the way down your legs. Sciatic nerve pain can feel achy or sharp, and sometimes like an electric shock.
Most Common Causes Of Sciatic Pain
In short, sciatica pain stems from a compression of the sciatic nerve. There are many ways to compress this nerve, but these seven are the most common.
Spondylolisthesis is simply an instability of the spine. It happens when one of your vertebrae slips out of place and rests on the bone below it, putting excess pressure on this bone. When this structure is compromised, it can also push on other nerves– including your sciatic nerve.
Disc Bulge Or Herniation
Injury to the discs in your back are a common culprit to sciatica pain as well. The vertebrae that stack to make up our spine all have small pads between them, called “discs,” and they serve as little shock absorbers to help protect our spine during day-to-day and dynamic movement. These discs are made up of a tougher outer cartilage ring and a softer, gel-like center. When some of this gel-like center is pushed out a bit in a bulge or a more serious herniation, this change in shape can also press on the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica pain.
Lumbar stenosis is the diagnosis for a narrowing of spaces within your spine. This narrowing puts pressure on the nerves that travel up and down the spine, including the sciatic nerve, causing feelings of tingling and numbness. Lumbar stenosis is caused most often by wear-and-tear over time, although a herniated disc can also contribute to this diagnosis.
Piriformis syndrome is a common cause of sciatica pain. The piriformis is a band-like muscle that runs diagonally from the midline base of your spine to the outer hip bone, making it responsible for any hip rotation and turning of your legs and feet– and thus, a prime target for high-repetition injury.
When your piriformis is overused without sufficient recovery time, the muscle begins to tighten substantially, causing compression of the sciatic nerve. This nerve compression can also cause highly uncomfortable spasming, triggering the symptoms of sciatica pain.
Trauma Of The Spine
Whether it’s a bike crash or a fall from tripping over dog toys at home, an accident of this nature can wreak havoc on your spine from the sudden, unexpected movement. Especially when the spine is directly involved in the accident, you may experience sciatica pain from compression due to these external forces.
Sciatica pain during pregnancy is incredibly common. The added weight from your growing baby and changes to your body positioning can sometimes push on the sciatic nerve, causing pain and discomfort. Sciatica pain from pregnancy is also referred to as pelvic bone pains.
Tumor On The Spine
This one is a little less common, but still worth mentioning. If you have a tumor along your lumbar vertebrae, the tumor can begin to push on those delicate sciatic nerve roots, thus triggering sciatica pain. Location of the tumor is key as to whether or not it will cause sciatica pain.
Though a tumor always sounds scary, the one positive is that it can sometimes alert you to its growth early on. Sciatica discomfort acts as an alert for your body, prompting you to seek the medical examination and treatment you need more swiftly.
I Have Sciatica Pain…Now What?
If you are experiencing sciatica pain, don’t fret! There are a lot of effective, conservative treatment options to employ in your road to recovery. We’ll preface this section by saying that we implore you to work with a medical professional if you’re experiencing ongoing back pain. And, before beginning any new exercise regime, you should always discuss with your practitioner first, to make sure that the movements are appropriate for your specific injury.
Alternate Ice and Heat
Many people have experienced significant relief from alternating ice and heat on the affected area of the back, targeting the inflammation and thereby reducing the pain. A note of caution– always make sure there is at least a small barrier (like a thin towel) between the ice or heat source and your skin to prevent irritation.
Arms Overhead Exercise
For this exercise, try lying with your back to the floor, and both of your knees bent. Keeping your back flat against the ground, slowly lift your arms overhead in a V formation. Tap the ground overhead, and then slowly bring them back to your sides. Repeat 5-10 times.
Cat / Cow Exercise
This is a great exercise to do in the morning after waking up, and in the evening before bed. Start on your hands and knees with your back in a neutral position. Drop your belly and lift your head slowly while arching your back downwards, before reversing the motion to lift your midsection, and arching your back upwards. Try taking a deep breath in while arching down, and exhaling while arching up. Continue this motion slowly, 5-10 times.
The Role Of Chiropractic Care In Sciatic Pain Treatment
Consistent chiropractic treatment can offer significant relief to those suffering from sciatica pain. Between a combination of spinal and extremity adjustments, chiropractic care can help to take the pressure of overly tight areas, realign your body, and keep your nervous system functioning properly. When your spine is out of line, it has a more difficult time communicating properly with your entire body. Adjustments can help to keep your healing process on track.
By scheduling regular chiropractic care, you can help to keep your body’s response system in tip-top shape. Your chiropractor can also help prescribe the best at-home exercises to quicken your recovery time. During the initial evaluation, your practitioner will go over your symptom history in detail and construct a treatment plan that you are completely comfortable with before moving forward.