The sciatic nerve is the largest continuous nerve in the human body, and it runs from the lower back down into both legs. When the sciatic nerve becomes pinched or compressed by the discs or vertebrae in the spine, it can lead to sciatic nerve pain and other troublesome symptoms known as sciatica.
Sciatica can be debilitating, causing a number of issues that can interfere with daily life. Some of these issues include severe pain, numbness, weakness, tingling, or even sharp electrical sensations. These symptoms can occur anywhere from the lower back down into the ankles and feet. While sciatica can be a reoccurring problem throughout a person’s life, with proper chiropractic care and sciatica exercises, spinal alignment can be maintained, and symptoms can be reduced or even eliminated.
1. Herniated and bulging discs
The space between the vertebrae of the spine is cushioned by a jelly-like substance known as a disc. Sometimes the disc can become herniated due to injury or degenerative changes in the spine, causing a large portion of the disc to squeeze out of the space and begin compressing the nerves that run through and out from the spinal cord.
A bulging disc is a gradual reduction of the disc, almost like deflating a balloon. A portion of the disc also squeezes out of the disc space, compressing the nerves but usually not as severely as a herniated disc. Bulging discs are typically the result of aging or other degenerative processes, and symptoms can occur gradually.
A disc pressing on the sciatic nerve will cause the nerve to send out distress signals to the brain and the muscles around it. This can cause the muscles to become inflamed and swollen, causing sciatic nerve pain and weakness or numbness.
Sciatica can also occur if a tumor grows on the spine, or in an area in which it touches on the sciatic nerve. The effect is much the same as that of a bulging or herniated disc touching the affected nerve. Luckily, spinal tumors are rare and usually benign; however, they can cause extreme pain, tingling, and numbness and are often tricky to remove surgically.
Surgery on these tumors or any section of the spine, even if done carefully, can nick the nerve and cause permanent sciatica and other problems.
In some cases, nerves can be damaged by disease, and the sciatic nerve is just as susceptible. Diabetes, which is known to cause peripheral neuropathy, can cause damage to the sciatic nerve and lead to symptoms of sciatica. Other diseases and conditions, including autoimmune diseases such as lupus, infections such as Lyme disease, and even shingles can also contribute to neuropathy. While sciatica is rare in many of these cases, it can still be a cause for chronic sciatic nerve pain.
4. Trauma and injury
Sports injuries, car accidents, slips and falls, and severe hits to the spinal cord can all cause damage to the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve. The resulting tissue damage can cause sciatica symptoms, although it can be helped with realignment by a chiropractor and therapies which promote blood flow and healing to the affected area.
5. Degenerative causes
Degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, and aging are all degenerative issues that can lead to a narrowing of the disc space between vertebrae. This can eventually lead to a bulging or herniated disc if it is not caught early. The resulting narrowing of the disc space can cause vertebrae to rub together, causing issues such as bone spurs and arthritis.
If the vertebrae come too close together, these can also begin to compress the nerves that run through and between them, causing sciatic nerve pain.
Luckily, while sciatic nerve pain can be serious and excruciating at first, it can be managed and even eliminated with the help of a good chiropractor. Your chiropractor will give you sciatica stretches, and lifestyle change guidance to help you get your body into shape and support the muscles that surround your spine. The strengthening of these muscles will support your chiropractor’s adjustments and keep sciatica from ruining your day.