Back pain alone can be bad enough, but when the pain starts radiating down your leg and causes numbness, tingling, or weakness, then you might have sciatica. The term sciatica refers to a problem with the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lower back and travels through the buttock down the back of each leg. Your sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body. It is made up of nerve roots that branch off of your spinal cord in the lower back and then join together to form the sciatic nerve. As it courses down each leg, portions of the nerve branch out to innervate parts of the thigh, calf, foot, and toes.
The sciatic nerve can be impinged or inflamed for several reasons which we’ll explore below. Once you better understand what commonly causes sciatica, we’ll talk about a way that many back pain and sciatica sufferers have found lasting relief naturally.
What Does Sciatica Feel Like?
Sciatica can have very different presentations from individual to individual. Even the same person might experience changing symptoms from day to day as their condition evolves. Sciatic pain can range from an infrequent, nagging irritation to constant and debilitating pain. Because sciatica tends to be related to spinal degeneration which occurs over time, it most commonly develops in a person’s 40s or 50s, though it can certainly develop before or after that age range.
- Pain that is usually worse when sitting down
- Sharp pain when rising from sitting to standing, or going from standing to walking
- Leg pain that is usually described as burning or tingling
- Aching or pain in the buttock on one side – sciatic rarely affects both legs
- Weakness or numbness in the areas of the leg or foot that is innervated by the sciatic nerve (I.e. the back of the thigh or calf)
- Difficulty moving the foot, toes, or the leg itself due to weakness or numbness
The site and severity of your symptoms will usually depend on the location of where the nerve is impacted. Sciatica can cause a great deal of discomfort, but the good news is that it’s very rarely related to a serious medical issue. That being said, red flags to look for when you’re experiencing sciatica symptoms include:
- Leg weakness that continues to progressively worsen
- Changes in bladder or bowel function
- Pain that is either severe or unable to be controlled
The Most Common Causes of Sciatica
The term sciatica is not a stand-alone diagnosis. To understand why the sciatic nerve is irritated, you need to trace back the problem to its source. Doing so can help you choose the most effective treatment option. As you’re reading through the most frequent causes of sciatica, you’ll notice that they have their origins in one place – your lower back.
- Lumbar disc degeneration – without proper movement and nutrition, the discs that separate the vertebrae in the low back can degenerate over time. This can cause inflammation and bone spurs which can result in irritation of the sciatic nerve.
- Lumbar disc herniation – the disc can weaken because of abnormal joint movement and can cause a disc herniation. The herniated material can bulge out or even push out of the disc entirely and put pressure on the nerve roots that contribute to the sciatic nerve. A disc herniation usually causes marked lower back pain and referred pain down the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis – a spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward on another. This reduces the amount of space the disc needs to stay healthy, leading to the pinching or irritation of nerves.
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction – your sacroiliac joints, or SI joints, are located at the base of the spine where your sacrum forms joints on the left and right sides of your pelvis. When this joint fails to function as it should, it can cause sciatica-type pain in the lower back and leg.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – sciatica can occur when the central canal that holds your spinal cord becomes narrowed. This narrowing can happen due to a combination of disc degeneration, enlarged facet joints, or inflamed soft tissues.
Reducing your Sciatica Risk and Finding Natural Relief
If you are suffering from lower back pain and it has started to cause referred pain along the sciatic nerve, there are some things you should pay attention to in order to reduce your risk factors. Taking steps towards achieving a healthy weight if you are carrying some extra pounds, increasing your level of activity if you are sedentary, and learning solid lifting techniques can help protect your back and reduce the odds of developing sciatica.
Aging does not necessarily need to come hand in hand with spinal degeneration, and the best way to avoid this is by taking proper care of your spine. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a great way to address the underlying cause of many spinal issues, including lower back pain and the many causes of sciatica. Having a spine that is balanced and healthy starts by balancing your head properly on top of your neck. When the vertebra that holds your head up, the atlas, misaligns, it causes the rest of your spine to compensate. Your shoulders and hips can become unlevel over time, which puts abnormal strain and stress on one side of your back more than the other. This can unequally compress discs, cause muscle spasm, and create the conditions for sciatica to develop over time.
Many patients under upper cervical chiropractic care not only report that their lower back pain and sciatica improve, but they experience benefits in other areas that contribute to a better quality of life. If you have been dealing with back pain or sciatica, then consulting with an upper cervical chiropractor in your area can be the first step towards finding effective, natural, and lasting relief.
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