What You Should Know About Chiropractic Care for Sciatica
What do you think Harrison Ford, Charlize Theron, and George Clooney have in common? Aside from being major film stars who have essentially become Hollywood royalty, all three have dealt with prolonged back pain related to the sciatic nerve, which is located in the lower and posterior aspect of the spine. Even though the sciatic nerve is often referred to in the singular form of the word, it is actually a bundle of five nerves of the sacral and lumbar regions of the spine. In the case of Harrison Ford, his condition was sometimes exacerbated while filming action scenes.
Sciatica does not solely affect Hollywood action stars; this is a common nerve pain condition that can bring about more symptoms than discomfort of the lower back. For many patients who suffer from sciatica, the pain will often radiate to other parts of the body without even causing much of a back pain issue. What is interesting about this nerve pain is that it feels unique; for many patients, the sensation ranges from electrical currents to pins and needles. Sciatica is known to have several triggers such as going up or downstairs, bending over to pick up objects, or even sitting down in a certain position.
Nerve Compression as a Main Cause of Sciatica
Temporary sciatic nerve pain is sometimes brought about by physical trauma. Skaters and skiers who fall down on their rear ends will strike the muscle tissue surrounding the sciatic nerve bundle, and the discomfort will last as long as the tissue is swollen. Long-term sciatica, however, is often related to nerve compression, and this is a condition that calls for chiropractic care.
The sciatic nerve bundle can come under pressure by many factors that are not necessarily injuries. Here are some of the situations that can result in nerve compression:
- Long bouts of constipation.
- Tumor growth and expansion.
- Herniated discs.
- Complicated pregnancies.
- Spinal subluxation.
Of the situations listed above, subluxation is more common than many people realize, and it is one that chiropractors are very familiar with.
Types of Chiropractic Care for Sciatica
A spinal subluxation occurs whenever the spine is out of alignment. Something as common as improper posture while sitting down can cause the spine to become misaligned; the intensity of the activity is not as determinant as the frequency. Think about an office worker or a taxi driver who sits on a thick wallet kept in a back pocket. Someone who sits at a workstation for many hours each day is bound to experience subluxation, particularly if the chair is not ergonomically designed or if the patient lives a sedentary lifestyle.
The muscles that surround the spine are the actual cause of misalignment and nerve compression; they will tighten up as a form of overcompensating for undue strain. In the case of a truck driver sitting lopsided because of a thick wallet, the muscles on the opposite side of the spine will become more rigid because they are tasked with supporting more weight than they should.
Treating the root cause of subluxation and correcting the alignment of the spine are at the heart of chiropractic treatment for sciatica. Here are some of the treatment procedures patients can expect:
- Spinal Manipulation: This sounds more excruciating than it really is. In essence, manipulating the spine is similar to massage therapy, but it involves resistance, pushing, pulling, and extending. The manipulation is measured and very gentle. Some patients will experience some initial discomfort before feeling relief.
- Cold Therapy: Applying ice packs directly to the swollen and rigid muscle tissue will reduce the edema, thus resulting in instant relief that is complemented with manipulation.
- Massage Therapy: This procedure is often performed in combination with spinal manipulation. The goal is to stimulate circulation in the affected area so that endorphins are allowed to flow, thus triggering an autonomous pain relief system. Professional athletes are known to undergo chiropractic massage therapy sessions as a means to prevent sciatica.
- Sound Wave Therapy: The use of ultrasound to elevate the internal temperature of muscle tissue and fiber is an ideal complement to spinal manipulation.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation: This is an advanced treatment procedure that involves the use of a special device. A TENS unit does not work directly on the nerves; instead, it stimulates the muscle tissue surrounding the sciatic nerve bundle. It is important to keep in mind that chiropractic care is always careful to not interact directly with nerves.
Chiropractic care is always holistic; this means that health conditions are evaluated with the goal of preventing them. Treatment is rendered when needed, but there is a strong focus on preventing conditions from getting worse or returning. Some patients will be encouraged to treat their sciatica conditions on their own, which means encouraging the body to activate the self-healing process through the following:
- Stretching Exercises: Not many people notice that their hamstring muscles are too tight. Stretching exercises that focus on the hamstring will make them more flexible so that they do not put a strain on lower back muscles, thus moving them away from the sciatic nerve bundle. You may go through a couple of guided stretching sessions at the chiropractic clinic before you can do them in the comfort of your home.
- Aerobic Exercise: Low-impact aerobic activities such as energetic walking are excellent ways to loosen your lower back while strengthening lumbar muscle tissue. Weight loss is another benefit; if you carry extra pounds around your belly, your lower back will try to overcompensate in terms of balance.
- Swimming: This is even better than low-impact aerobics. The key is to gradually increase the effort by adding one extra lap each week or spending more time at the swimming pool.
- Yoga: Chiropractors will be the first to tell you that very few of their patients practice yoga on a regular basis. The yoga poses that focus on strengthening the core, which includes your belly and lower back, are crucial to alleviating and preventing sciatica.
What You Can Expect From Chiropractic Care for Sciatica
Depending on the severity of your condition, you may start feeling relief in just a few days following the first spinal manipulation session. As long as the issue is purely muscular, you have the potential of completely getting rid of the pain in a few weeks. Keep in mind that success in chiropractic care is highly dependent on sticking to the treatment plan, and this includes activities at home.