Sciatica is the term used to describe nerve pain that occurs along the course of the sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve is the longest and largest single nerve in the body, and experiencing trouble with it is far from uncommon. The sciatic nerve branches from the nerve roots in your lower back and courses through your hips, buttocks, and down the back of each leg. The pain of sciatica can be debilitating. It is often described as a burning, searing, or shooting pain that radiates down the back of your leg. In addition to being painful, sciatica can also cause numbness and weakness in the affected leg or foot.
Because the worst of sciatic is experienced as leg pain, it can be easy to think that there’s something wrong with the leg itself. However, because the sciatic nerve has its origin in the low back and then continues down through the buttock, hips, legs, and feet, the pain can be felt anywhere along the course of the nerve but the problem begins at the nerve root as it exits from the spine.
What are the Most Common Causes of Sciatica?
- Herniated disc in the low back – a disc herniation happens when the soft, gel-like substance of the inner portion of the disc pushes through the fibrous outer rings of the disk and leaks out. This can irritate the nerve roots or the spinal cord itself. A herniated disc might also be referred to as a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc. A bulging disc might also be at the root of sciatica, which is when the inner disc material fails to push all the way out of the side of the disc but forms a bulge instead.
- Degenerative disc disease – the discs that separate the vertebrae in your low back are sturdy and built to cushion the movements that your spine makes. The discs can wear down over time, caused by a decrease in the hydration level of the disc. When the disc dehydrates, it becomes less flexible, shrinks in size, and is more vulnerable to tearing. Disc degeneration can alter your lumbar spine’s ability to move normally and can irritate the nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis – a spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward on another. This can happen for several reasons. Younger people are more prone to developing isthmic spondylolisthesis, where a small stress fracture creates the conditions for a vertebra to be able to slop forward on top of the one below it. Older people might develop degenerative spondylolisthesis which happens as a result of wear and tear to the intervertebral disc.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar spine can place pressure on the nerve roots to cause sciatica. Lumbar spinal stenosis commonly occurs along with spinal arthritis, which can also be a contributor to sciatic nerve pain.
Avoidable Risk Factors That Can Aggravate Sciatica
Taking steps towards improving the health and mobility of your spine can reduce the risk of developing sciatica. Of course, there are some factors that are unavoidable – there’s no predicting a car accident, slip and fall, or sports injury. However, there are some risk factors that are under our control to change that can have numerous health benefits beyond reducing your risk of developing sciatica:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Carrying extra body weight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Repetitive physical activities
Care for Your Spine to Eradiate Sciatica Naturally
Sciatica and spinal alignment go hand in hand. When the vertebra in your lumbar spine misalign, over time it can cause irritation of the sciatic nerve for the reasons we detailed above. In order to heal and find relief, it is necessary to find out why the lower back was affected. Many times, spinal issues begin at the uppermost part of the spine. Your atlas (C1) vertebra is the top bone in your neck, and it’s the most freely movable segment of the entire spinal column. Because it is so free to move, it can also be especially prone to misaligning. When that occurs, as a result of an injury or wear and tear over time, it starts to influence how the rest of the spine is positioned. It’s essentially like tipping over the first domino in a chain – eventually each one is impacted. The lower back can be adjusted and it may even provide temporary relief, but the root cause of the problem would remain unaddressed.
Upper cervical chiropractors specialize in detecting and correcting even the most subtle atlas misalignments, and we understand how an atlas misalignment can be causing compensations elsewhere in the spine. We use specific diagnostic imaging that allows us to give the most precise adjustment to each individual we take care of in our practice. Our adjustments are so specific to each patient that they do not require any forceful twisting or popping of the neck in order to make an atlas correction. Specific adjustments are also designed to hold in place for longer, giving your body the opportunity to heal from back pain and sciatica naturally. By addressing the root cause, results from upper cervical chiropractic care can be long-lasting rather than just provide temporary symptomatic relief.