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Treatment of Sciatica (Back-Related Leg Pain)

exercise advice for sciaticaSciatica is a general term for back related leg pain.  Pain radiating from the low back to the thigh and leg can be a disabling. Sometimes the pain comes and goes for years if left untreated.  Research into the best treatment for sciatica helps to guide our expectations and decisions about managing back related leg pain.  Like any pain condition, effective treatment begins with a solid diagnosis.

Research into non-surgical sciatica treatment

In a study published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers investigated 192 patients with back-related leg pain (sciatica) for at least four weeks. Half of the patients were given chiropractic adjustments with home exercise and advice.  The other half were given only the home exercise and advice.  The study ran for 12 weeks, and the chiropractic patients received up to 20 chiropractic adjustments over that time.

The study participants were assessed at the beginning of the study, at 12 weeks, and at one year after the completion. The researchers found that:

  • After 12 weeks of treatment, those with sciatica treated with chiropractic adjustments had less back pain, less disability, better overall improvement, and better satisfaction than those who were given advice and exercise.
  • Also, at the 1-year follow-up, the patients who received chiropractic adjustments maintained their overall improvement and satisfaction with care.
  • Since chiropractic care is relatively safe, there were no serious adverse effects identified due to chiropractic adjustments during the study.

The researchers concluded that chiropractic and home exercises combined, “is a safe and effective conservative treatment approach, resulting in better short-term outcomes,” than exercise alone.

Moreover, this study confirms what I have observed over the past 40 years in practice.  Mechanical problems often benefit from mechanical solutions, and a course of chiropractic treatment is an effective way to improve one’s painful low back and sciatica.

Bronfort G, Hondras MA, Schulz CA, et al. Spinal manipulation and home exercise with advice for subacute and chronic back-related leg pain. Annals of Internal Medicine 2014;161:381-391.

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