Have you ever had excruciating pain radiating down the back of your leg to the point where nothing is comfortable? Then you are probably all too familiar with today’s blog topic: Sciatica. Sciatica is the symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling or burning in the back of the leg that is the result of something pinching or irritating the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that travels down the back of the leg to the bottom of the foot. It includes several smaller nerves and originates from the spine in the low back. It passes under the piriformis muscles, which lies under the gluteus maximus muscle or the main muscle in the buttock, on its way down the leg. Irritation of the sciatic nerve at any point along its path causes the symptoms of sciatica. Although entrapment of the nerve can happen in several different places, the two most common sites are where the nerve originates at the spine and where the nerve passes under the piriformis muscle.
Irritation of the sciatic nerve as it exits the spine is often the result of mechanical dysfunction of the joints of the spine. The nerves exiting the spine can become pinched or irritated in a number of ways: nerves can be pressed on by bulging discs, encroached on by bone spurs, or irritated by surrounding soft tissues such as muscles or ligaments. Vertebrae that are misaligned can also impinge the sciatic nerve roots leading to sciatica.
Sciatica related to joint dysfunction or bone misalignment is best corrected using chiropractic care. Chiropractors use an adjustment where they put directed and controlled pressure into a dysfunctional joint to restore that joint’s normal position and motion. This causes the pressure being put on the nerve to be reduced.
The other common cause of sciatica is the nerve being pinched by the piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve passes directly under or through the piriformis muscle. Traumatic injuries or repetitive motions can cause the piriformis muscle to go into spasm or become inflamed. This causes pressure to be put on the sciatic nerve leading to sciatica. Usually this process begins with stiffness in the low back, hips or legs that progresses to full-blown sciatica. Common causes of piriformis problems include running, biking, prolonged sitting, pregnancy, or an auto accident where the foot was on the brake at the time of the accident. Problems with the sacroiliac joints and hip joints can also cause issues with the piriformis muscle.
Chiropractic care often corrects these joint problems allowing the supporting musculature to return to a healthy, balanced state. The primary goal of chiropractic is to locate and correct the cause of your problem. Treatment of the muscle alone will likely provide only temporary benefit as the dysfunctional joint will merely cause the muscles to become unbalanced again over time.