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The 4 Main Causes of Sciatica (that are a Pain)

herniated disc on spine, cause of sudden, searing back pain

Pain radiating along the sciatic nerve, which runs down one or both legs from the lower back, is a very common condition that affects more than 3 million people living in the U.S. per year. However, it is treatable by our AFC professionals! Here at AFC, we have seen the pain resolve within weeks to months.

Sciatica can be described as or called many different things. It can be called neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy, and sciatic nerve pain, frequently described as hip and leg pain, pain in the back of the leg behind the knee, and severe leg cramps. While the location of the pain varies somewhat, the condition is usually caused by one of these four things:

1. When a herniated disc between the vertebrae of the spine presses on the sciatic nerve.

A spinal disc is the cushion, or membrane, that wraps between the vertebrae of the spine, keeping bones from rubbing together. When a disc is herniated, or ruptured, it must be given special attention in order to heal in a healthy alignment with the rest of the spine. 

A herniated disc does not hurt on its own, and requires nerves to communicate the problem. The patient may feel a sharp pain in their lower back when the herniated disc comes into contact with the sciatic nerve. 

2. When bone spurs from arthritis in the spine press on the sciatic nerve.

Bone spurs are odd, angular pieces of bone that develop over time, often as an effect of arthritis. They occur most often where two bones come into contact. 

3. When a muscle in the hip, called the piriformis, spasms and compresses the sciatic nerve.

The most common causes of muscle spasms are fatigue and dehydration. Muscles need time to recover after vigorous exercise, especially heavy lifting. Your chiropractor can help you build a nutrition and detox plan to keep your muscles healthy, and help prevent muscle spasms in the future. 

4. When a misalignment of the spine, called a subluxation, presses on the sciatic nerve.

Over time, due to genetics, problematic posture, and stress on the body, spinal misalignment may develop in anyone. The misalignment may be visually apparent or subtle. Discomfort or pain from vertebrae pressing against the sciatic nerve may be one of the first signs.

While sciatica pain can be felt in various places from the hips to the feet, that sensation always comes from pinching of the sciatic nerve, located along the length of the leg.

Treatments at AFC may include: trigger point injections, ergonomic modifications, spinal manipulations, and learning the appropriate stretches and exercises to strengthen the core. The treatment varies depending on the underlying cause, from muscle spasms to spine misalignment, or subluxation. Rarely are medications such as anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or muscle relaxants prescribed. While surgery is sometimes necessary, it’s something that we avoid in favor of the numerous less invasive treatments.

The great news is that this condition responds very quickly when you take a comprehensive approach like we do here at AFC Physical Medicine & Chiropractic Centers. Understanding which tissue is pressing on the nerve and treating this complicated condition correctly can prevent unnecessary surgery! Find more information about sciatica.