Did you know that 50 to 75 percent of patients who see a chiropractor come for relief from back pain. And a substantial number of those patients have sciatica – the popular term for pain radiating into the back of the leg and commonly associated with a nerve root irritation in the lower back.
According to the Journal of American Chiropractic Association (JACA), sciatica is widely recognized as a common variation of low-back pain, with up to 40 percent of the population experiencing it during their lifetime. That’s a lot of people.
A dull pain or numbness in the buttock, leg, or foot is often the first indication of sciatica. If left untreated, sciatica can lead to a loss of muscle strength and muscle size that may be irreversible. Eventually, you can have problems with gait as well. And because the same spinal lesions that commonly produce sciatica may also affect the nerves supplying the sphincter muscles of the bowel and bladder, incontinence (loss of bowel or bladder control) can result.
Sciatica can result from pain that is referred from other structures in the low back, such as the discs, the small joints, and the muscles or ligaments. Sciatica may not always be due to a lower back problem, though. The term sciatica is a catch-all term representing multiple causes of leg pain, including tumors, vascular diseases and more. Because leg pain can often be misdiagnosed as sciatica, it’s important to see a doctor who understands this problem well. I think it’s a good idea to immediately get an MRI in cases like these so you’re absolutely sure what’s going on.
There are several treatments for sciatica, and when it’s treated with spinal manipulation, patients have an 8 to 9 percent greater rate of recovery than if they report for physical therapy or standard medical care.
The treatment of low back pain and sciatica is one of the greatest challenges for doctors, and is the most expensive ailment treated in the United States in people ages 20 through 50. It costs billions of dollars to treat every year, and to compound things, 10 percent of those who have back and sciatic pain will pay for 90 percent of the cost of treatment.
Authors of the JACA article on sciatica offer the following tips to help prevent sciatica or relieve its symptoms:
- Strengthen back and abdominal muscles. There are different kinds of exercises for the low back that your doctor of chiropractic can show you.
- Even when lifting light objects, hold the object close to the body and lift with the back straight, rising up by using muscles in the hips and legs.
- Occupational therapy or job retraining may be necessary if working conditions such as heavy lifting, long distance driving, and long periods at a desk continue to aggravate the condition.
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Take frequent breaks and walk around or do a short exercise routine. Make sure the ergonomics of your workstation support good habits.