Sciatica describes a specific type of pain that happens when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated or inflamed. The sciatic nerve is the single largest nerve in your body. It forms from nerve roots that branch off of the spinal cord in the lower back then travels through the buttock into the back of the thigh and down the back of the leg into the foot on both sides of the body. Generally speaking, the nerves in your body constantly send and receive signals that control feeling (sensation) and function (movement). The sciatic nerve supplies both sensation and strength to the leg and foot.
Any type of problem in the lower part of your spine can have a negative impact on one of the nerves that feed into the sciatic nerve. The symptoms of sciatica will differ depending on which spinal nerve is affected and how badly it is irritated or compressed. Even if episodes seem to come and go, the pain of sciatica will persist until the underlying cause of the problem is addressed.
What are the First Signs of Sciatica?
In the majority of cases, sciatica will affect only one side of the lower body. The pain can start as a twinge in the lower back and extend all the way down through the back of the thigh into the foot and toes depending on the location of the problem along the pathway of the nerve. For some people, sciatica symptoms can be sporadic, infrequent, and mildly irritating. For others, sciatica can be debilitating and severe, causing pain, weakness, and numbness. The pain is usually described as sharp, burning, or searing rather than a dull ache or throbbing pain. The most common sciatica symptoms include:
- Lower back pain
- Hip pain
- Pain in the buttock or back of the leg
- Burning or tingling sensation down the leg
- Pain that worsens when sitting
- Shooting pain that makes standing up difficult
- Numbness or weakness in the affected leg and/or foot
What Can be Causing My Sciatica?
When the pain of sciatica strikes, it can have its roots in several places:
- Degenerative Disc Disease – between each vertebra in the lower back is a disc that helps to cushion our spine as it moves. The disc is made up of a gel-like center that is contained by rings of tougher, more fibrous tissue. When the discs start to degenerate, the inner nucleus material can start to push through the outer layers and cause a bulging or herniated disc. The bulging or herniated disc material can push on nearby nerve roots, causing sciatic nerve irritation, pain, inflammation, numbness, and weakness.
- Spondylolisthesis – spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra, commonly in the lower back, slips forward over the vertebra below it. There are many reasons why spondylolisthesis might occur – some are born with this anomaly and it can also result from spinal degeneration, trauma, or injury. This displacement can irritate spinal nerve roots and cause pain that radiates along the course of the sciatic nerve.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – Spinal stenosis causes a narrowing of the central canal that the spinal cord itself passes through. This condition is more common in older adults and is a result of degeneration that occurs over time when the spine is not functioning properly due to injury or misalignment.
- Pressure on the sciatic nerve from the piriformis muscle – the piriformis muscle connects the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine) to the femur (thigh bone) and controls hip movement and rotation. The pathway of the sciatic nerve brings it beneath this muscle. If the piriformis experiences muscle spasm or injury, it has the potential to compress the nearby sciatic nerve causing the classic symptoms of sciatica.
- Osteophytes – osteophytes, which most people know as bone spurs, occur as part of the degenerative process. Depending on the location of the osteophyte, it can place pressure or irritation on any of the nerves that combine to form the sciatic nerve.
- Pregnancy – sciatica is a common complaint during pregnancy, particularly in the later months as the fetus grows and puts more weight and pressure on the lumbar spine. Pregnancy-related sciatica is often relieved once the baby is born as long as the lower back and pelvis follow a normal course of recovery.
Addressing the Underlying Cause for Sciatica Relief
For most people, having your neck checked to address sciatica isn’t the first thing you think of. However, upper cervical chiropractic care has helped many sciatica sufferers to identify and correct a frequently overlooked cause of the condition. Upper cervical chiropractors focus on precisely correcting the atlas, the uppermost vertebra in the spinal column. The atlas is distinct for several reasons, particularly because it is responsible for bearing the weight of the head and accounting for the majority of its movement. When it comes to sciatica, here’s what happens:
- The atlas misaligns as a result of an accident, injury, or wear and tear. It is one of, if not the most likely place for this misalignment to occur given the fact that it is the most freely movable segment of the entire spine.
- Because the head is balanced and supported by the atlas, the eyes become off-level with the horizon. The brain reflexively wants the eyes to be level, so a series of compensations begins to occur.
- The shoulders become uneven as the mid-back compensates.
- One hip draws up higher than the other, causing animbalance in the lower back. These compensations begin to cause irritation on the nerves that form the sciatic nerve.
- Inflammation and pain follow suit, causing the burning, numbness, and weakness associated with sciatica.
It’s easy to see, then, how an atlas misalignment can cause the trickle-down effect that will, over time, lead to sciatica. Upper cervical care is always geared towards addressing the root cause of a person’s symptoms and not merely providing a solution for temporary relief. Once normal atlas alignment is restored through gentle, specific upper cervical adjustments, the body can naturally heal and come back into balance, giving low back pain and sciatica sufferers the lasting relief they’ve been looking for. To learn more about the upper cervical chiropractic care solution, use the search feature to locate a practitioner in your area. Many offer a complimentary and obligation-free consultation to get you started down the road to feeling better.