The pain of sciatica can range from a subtle numbness in the leg or foot that comes and goes to a constant, searing pain in the lower back, buttock, thigh, or calf. It can be a condition that slowly creeps in over a long period of time or it can come on suddenly like a strike of lightning. For some people, sciatic nerve pain can be a mild and infrequent annoyance, but for others, it can be severe and disabling.
What accounts for the wide variety of possible presentations is the fact that the sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body and courses a long way from your lower back down to your toes. Depending on what part of the nerve is impacted, the pain of sciatica can differ greatly from case to case and can even feel different day-to-day for the same person.
What are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Common symptoms of an irritated or inflamed sciatic nerve include:
- Lower back pain
- Hip pain
- Burning or tingling sensations down the leg
- Numbness, weakness, or trouble moving the leg or foot
- Pain in the buttock or back of the leg that may be worst when sitting
- Shooting pain upon standing up from a seated position
It is typical for these symptoms of sciatica to be present only on one side of the lower body. In many cases, the pain will reach from the lower back down through the back of the thigh into the leg, calf, foot, and toes depending on where along the course of the nerve it’s affected.
What’s Causing my Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatica occurs when there is some kind of irritation to the sciatic nerve. The roots of the sciatic nerve that branch off of the spinal cord in the lower back can become compressed or pinched for several reasons:
- Degenerative disc disease – the discs that separate your vertebrae can degenerate as a result of wear and tear over time or from a vulnerability caused by a specific accident or injury. When the discs break down, they’re no longer able to provide the cushion needed to protect the nerve roots as they branch off of the spinal cord, leaving them susceptible to irritation. Disc degeneration can also lead to bone spur formation, another common cause of sciatica.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – the central canal that the spinal cord can itself become narrowed and lead to sciatic nerve irritation.
- Spondylolisthesis – when one vertebra slips forward over another, it reduces the size of the opening that the spinal cord and nerve roots must pass through.
- Muscle spasm – injury or spasm of muscles in the back or buttocks can cause pinching or constriction of the sciatic nerve and contribute to pain along the course of the nerve.
- Pregnancy – sciatica is a common complaint during pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester as a woman’s center of gravity must shift to accommodate the growing fetus and pregnancy-related hormones are creating a loosening of joints and ligaments in preparation for birth.
How Can I Address Sciatica Naturally?
There are many reasons why people who deal with the ongoing pain of sciatica would seek out natural, drug-free methods to reduce their pain and improve their quality of life. Here are our top 5 solutions to start to deal with the pain of sciatica naturally:
- Take a walk: Exercise has so many health benefits from cardiovascular fitness to building strength. For sciatica sufferers, the pain you’re experiencing might have you feeling hesitant to get up and get moving, but a low-impact activity like walking will usually produce more relief than resting and avoiding any activity whatsoever. Walking can help to reduce sciatic nerve pain by reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers. Beginning with a short walk of 5 minutes and working your way up to walking briskly for 30 minutes several times a week can help keep pain at bay.
- Apply ice and/or heat: Icing is a good way to numb pain and reduce inflammation in the first few days after symptoms develop, particularly if they happen following an accident or injury. Applying heat, especially before an activity like going for a walk, can help to loosen and relax tight muscles and can help reduce pain.
- Pay attention to your posture: Since sciatica is often aggravated when sitting, practicing good posture while seated can help to prevent and alleviate pain. Sitting puts additional pressure on the lower back and sciatic nerve, so be sure to sit upright with your knees elevated slightly over the level of your hips. Try to choose a chair that has good lumbar spine support. A sit-to-stand workstation is also a great option that allows you to vary your position throughout the day.
- Work on your flexibility: Tight muscles are often a contributing factor when it comes to the development of sciatica. Two of the muscles that are helpful to keep limber are your hamstrings and piriformis. Hamstrings can be stretched either standing or seated. A popular pose to stretch the piriformis is called pigeon pose and works to open the hips.
- Take care of your spine: Your sciatic nerve originates in the lower back, so ensuring good spinal health is not optional when it comes to finding natural relief. Taking a top-down approach to addressing spinal misalignments, as upper cervical chiropractors do, is a way to ensure the best health of your spinal column and nervous system.
Correcting the Underlying Cause of Sciatica
The upper neck and the lower back may not feel like they’re related, but the truth is that what happens at the top of the spine absolutely has an impact on how the rest of your back feels and functions. When the uppermost vertebra in the spine, the atlas (C1), misaligns and forces the head out of its neutral position, the rest of your spine is forced into a stressed position to compensate. The shoulders might appear uneven and one hip might be higher than the other, causing one leg to seem shorter than the other. This can put a lot of stress on the lower back and subsequently irritate the sciatic nerve.
In order to obtain lasting relief, this underlying cause must be addressed and allowed to heal. An upper cervical misalignment is a frequently overlooked cause of many painful health conditions, including lower back pain and sciatica. At Rickards Chiropractic, we offer gentle, precise upper cervical chiropractic care that has helped many sciatica sufferers find natural, sustainable relief. Contact us to learn more and schedule a complimentary consultation.