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The truth about sciatica

Are you struggling with pain starting in your back and running down your leg? The discomfort you are experiencing may well be sciatica.

We know how frustrating and painful it can be and its impact on daily Jersey life. Things that once seemed simple, like taking out the rubbish or washing the pots, can become a mammoth task.

It is estimated that sciatica affects 10% to 40% of the population. As a team of Jersey chiropractors, this is one of the most common conditions we see and something we are very well equipped to help with and get excellent results in a relatively short period of time. 

Let’s dive in with what it is, what causes it and how to get rid of sciatica. 

What is sciatica?

Did you know that your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body?

What side is your sciatic nerve on? 

The nerves in the lower part of your spine join to form the left and right sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve travels from the back of your pelvis, buttocks, and down the back of both legs. Ending just below your knee. 

The sciatic nerve then branches into other nerves, which travel along the back of your lower leg into your foot.

When there is compression or irritation to the sciatic nerve, it often results in sciatica pain or other symptoms, which is called ‘sciatica’.

The sciatic nerve provides vital communication to move your leg and foot and allows you to feel sensations. Do you remember when you last stubbed your toe or stood on a piece of Lego with your bare foot?! 

That intense sciatica pain would have probably sent you hopping around the room whilst cursing. You may cringe at the thought of how unpleasant it was at the time. Still, it is thanks to your nerves that you felt it, acting as a protective mechanism to help you move your foot out of the way as soon as possible.

How do you know if you have sciatica?

Everyone’s experience is unique. For one person, it could be mild and more of an irritation, and for another, it can be severe and debilitating.

What does sciatica feel like?

Typically, sciatica presents as pain, numbness, or tingling that starts in the lower back and radiates into the buttocks and down the back of the leg into the calf. 

This can extend into the ankle and foot. It could be a dull ache or a severe shooting, stabbing, or burning sensation, and it can cause weakness in the leg and foot.

What is the main cause of sciatica?

There can be several causes, so getting right to the issue’s root is vital. Do you remember we mentioned previously that sciatica starts due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve? 

The most common cause of this is due to a disc herniation in the lower back. The discs are like shock-absorbing cushions that sit between the bones of your spine; if they become injured, it can put pressure on the nerve. 

Alternatively, degenerative spine changes, such as bone spurs, can encroach on the nerve causing painful symptoms. Something that we see often but is not formally sciatica is tension of the piriformis muscle. 

The piriformis is in the buttocks and can become tight or inflamed, which impacts the sciatic nerve due to its close proximity. This can cause sciatica-type symptoms by referring sciatica pain into the leg.

What causes sciatica to flare up? 

Sciatica can flare up for many reasons, including poor biomechanics of the spine, living a sedentary lifestyle, repetitive heavy lifting and twisting, and weight gain.

How long will sciatica take to heal?

That all depends on the initial cause. Sciatica can self-resolve, which may take up to 4 to 8 weeks. Still, there is every possibility it will return at a later date and with very little to trigger it if the cause is not addressed. 

Therefore, we would always recommend seeking help. Knowing that the earlier these issues are addressed, the easier and quicker they are to heal is important. 

What is the most successful treatment for sciatica?

The good news is that chiropractic care can help with sciatica relief. If you are seeking help to get to the root cause of your pain, we would recommend seeing a chiropractor in Jersey because our primary focus is on the health of your spine and nerves.

We will conduct a thorough consultation and focused testing looking at various lifestyle and physical contributors to your symptoms. Then, provide you with a treatment plan to get on top of your sciatica.

Does sciatica show up on an xray?

Depending on individual needs, imaging may be required to help diagnose the underlying issue. Still, it is not always necessary and is something that we would discuss at the time and refer out for if necessary.

How can a chiropractor help sciatica?

If you experience sciatica and visit Human Health, we use a combination of specific chiropractic adjustments and tailored support and advice to help. Healing does take time and teamwork, and everyone’s journey and treatment plan can differ based on individual circumstances, which is why we would set a specific plan for you.

Will painkillers help sciatica?

When it comes to the management of sciatica through medication, according to the NHS, it is unclear how helpful painkillers are for sciatica. Whilst painkillers may help to reduce the discomfort for some people, they, unfortunately, don’t help to get to the root of the issue, so it would not be a long-term solution as a treatment plan.

What is the best way to relieve sciatica at home?

As well as seeking help through chiropractic care, you will be pleased to know there are things you can do at home to help.

Does walking help sciatica?

Keeping mobile as much as possible is key, even if it is slowly walking around your home. If you can do a bit more, taking a short walk outside can help, and the fresh air and daylight will do you wonders. Unfortunately, sitting or lying down for long periods of time may delay your healing.

Some people find applying warmth to the lower back can reduce some of the discomforts and create a soothing effect. A water bottle or wheat bag can be useful for this. Alternating between cool and warm may help to reduce the sciatica pain also. 

For example, gently applying something cool on your lower back for 10 minutes (such as a bag of peas wrapped in a tea towel) and then moving to 10 minutes of warmth (water bottle or wheat bag).

What is the best position to sleep in if you have sciatica?

We know how difficult sleeping can become when you are in pain. Where possible, we recommend sleeping flat on your back and placing a pillow under your knees to help reduce some tension from your lower back. Alternatively, you could try sleeping on your side and place a firm pillow between your knees.

Sciatica exercises that you can do at home

A method called “nerve flossing” can be done standing with the affected leg lifted off the ground in front of you and kept straight. At the same time, let your head drop forward, tucking your chin and holding for a few seconds before returning both to their neutral position. Repeat this action 2-3 times throughout the day. This action stretches the sciatic nerve and should provide some relief. If it is excruciating to do so, then speak to your health care practitioner before continuing. 

Improving the health of your core muscles is a major ingredient for spinal health and reducing the chance of sciatic episodes. Pilates and the McGills Big 3 are a great place to begin. 

Be sure to listen closely to how your lower back and stomach muscles should be activated during each individual movement so as not to further aggravate your symptoms through bad positioning. 

To wrap up

We hope this information has provided helpful insight into sciatica.

Getting to the root cause of your sciatica is key to helping you in the short term with management and your long-term health to prevent recurring episodes. We know we have referenced that a few times, but we share it honestly, as we have your best interest in mind.  

Sometimes the health of our spine can be forgotten because it sits behind us, and we don’t see it every day like our teeth. But if you are proactive in taking care of your spine, it will not only help your healing journey if you are currently experiencing sciatica, but it will help you long-term, so you can continue doing the things you love in life.

If you would like any further information on sciatica, please reach out. We are here to help.

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Tacy Wright

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