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Sciatic pain can be described as dull, achy, sharp, toothache-like, pins and needles, or similar to electric shock-like shooting leg pain. Other sciatica symptoms may include burning, numbness, and tingling sensations. A misconception is that sciatica is a disorder—however, sciatica is a symptom.

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain in the leg or rear that is worse when sitting
  • Burning or tingling running down the leg
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear
  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up

Sciatica is caused by irritation of the root(s) of the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine. Sciatic nerve compression may result in the loss of feeling, paralysis of a single limb or group of muscles, and insomnia. These are other causes of sciatica:

  • Spinal stenosis, narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back.
  • Degenerative disc disease is affecting the discs that cushion the vertebrae.
  • Spondylolisthesis, when one vertebra slips forward over another one.
  • Pregnancy, which can add a severe strain on the spine.

Additional irritants: excess weight, not exercising regularly, high heels, or sleeping on a mattress that is too soft.

Proper Diagnosis of Sciatica Is Essential

Since many disorders cause sciatica, the chiropractor’s first step is to determine what is causing sciatica. These tests help to detect possible contraindications to spinal adjustments and other chiropractic therapies. Chiropractor’s diagnosis involves a thoughtful review of the patient’s medical history and a physical and neurological examination. X-ray, MRI, CT scan, or electrodiagnostic tests can be used for diagnostic testing.

Chiropractic Treatment of Sciatica Symptoms

The purpose of chiropractic treatment is to help the body’s potential to heal itself. It is based on the scientific principle that restricted spinal movement leads to pain and reduced function and performance. Chiropractic care is non-invasive (non-surgical) and drug-free. The type of chiropractic therapy provided depends on the cause of the patient’s sciatica.

  • Ice/Cold therapy reduces inflammation and helps to control sciatic pain. Ultrasound produces gentle heat created by sound waves that penetrate deep into soft tissues (e.g., muscles). Ultrasound increases circulation and helps reduce muscle spasms, cramping, swelling, stiffness, and sciatic pain.
  • TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a small box-like, battery-powered, portable muscle stimulating machine. Variable intensities of electrical current control acute pain and reduce muscle spasms. Larger versions of the home-use TENS units are used by chiropractors, physical therapists, and other rehab professionals.
  • Adjustments (Spinal Manipulation) At the core of chiropractic care are spinal adjustments. Manipulation frees restricted movement of the spine and helps restore misaligned vertebral bodies (subluxation) to their proper position in the spinal column. Spinal alignment helps reduce nerve irritability responsible for inflammation, muscle spasm, pain, and other symptoms related to sciatica. Adjustments should not be painful. Spinal manipulation is proven to be safe and effective.

Chiropractic Limitations in Treating Sciatica

Sciatica can be caused by other disorders beyond the scope of chiropractic practice. If the doctor of chiropractic determines the patient’s ailment requires treatment by another type of doctor, then the patient is referred to another specialty. In some cases, the referring chiropractor may continue to treat the patient and co-manage the patient’s care with the other specialist.

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