You might consider chiropractic care as something that only “fixes” the spine, but it’s so much more than that. A misaligned spine can contribute to serious conditions, some of which can lead to sciatic pain. Fortunately, seeing a chiropractor for sciatica can help not only relieve sciatic pain but also treat the underlying condition that caused it. Here’s how.
How does chiropractic care for sciatica work?
Visiting a chiropractor for sciatica can help relieve pain that occurs as a result of pressure on your sciatic nerve. The focus of your visit will depend on your underlying condition, but in general, chiropractors aim to bring your spine into healthy alignment.
Not only does healthy spinal alignment support overall wellness, but it also allows the body to function more efficiently. If one part of the body is compensating for spinal misalignment, this can begin to have a ripple effect. Pain may begin to appear in other areas of the body due to the stress of imbalance. Sciatica chiropractic care seeks to bring the whole body back to proper alignment and balance.
Why is sciatica so hard to treat?
Sciatica is the name for a particular type of pain that originates in the sciatic nerve.
Your sciatic nerve is the longest (and widest) nerve in the body, running from the lower back, across the glutes, and down the side of the hip to the lower leg and foot. Any injury, damage, or pressure along this nerve can cause pain that makes daily life challenging.
Sciatica is hard to treat because the underlying conditions that are leading to damage must be diagnosed and addressed. Diagnosing those underlying conditions can take time. Unfortunately, until that is complete, sciatica symptoms can only be temporarily relieved.
In general, sciatica does not go away on its own and will likely get worse over time if left untreated.
Do I have sciatica?
Sciatic pain is unmistakable and can be very intense. Some people experience a sudden onset of pain, while others notice a gradual worsening of symptoms.
The most common symptoms of sciatica include the following:
- Lower back pain
- Pain that radiates down the legs
- Increased pain with long periods of sitting or standing
- Pain when going from sitting to standing (or vice versa)
- Pain in the hip
- Burning pain
- Weakness and pain in the legs
- Feeling of “pins and needles” along the leg and in the toes
- Tight calves
These symptoms are most often experienced on one side of the body only. If you experience loss of bowel or bladder control or extreme weakness in the lower limbs, this is considered a medical emergency. Get treatment immediately.
There are a number of risk factors for sciatic pain. One of the most common is also the only underlying condition that usually resolves itself (and the pain): pregnancy.
Other risk factors include:
- A sedentary lifestyle: Sitting too much increases your chances of nerve pain
- Age: Older people are more at risk for underlying conditions that cause sciatica
- Obesity: Obesity is comorbid for a variety of sciatica-related conditions
- Occupation: Heavy lifting or repetitive motion activities can place you at higher risk
What does a chiropractor for sciatica do?
Seeing a chiropractor for sciatica connects you with a healthcare provider that takes your full wellness into consideration.
You’ll likely undergo a series of spinal manipulations and adjustments. Some of these are manual adjustments, and others of these involve specialized equipment (e.g., handheld tools or a chiropractic table). They may also recommend other therapies, such as at-home stretches or nutritional changes.
Chiropractic techniques for sciatica
Chiropractic techniques for sciatica focus on aligning your spine and bringing strength and stability to the whole spinal structure. To do this, your chiropractor may utilize the following techniques.
Note that there are over 200 different types of chiropractic adjustments. Your doctor will work with you to determine which will be most effective for your underlying condition.
This high-velocity, low-amplitude technique moves misaligned vertebra back into place. The characteristic “cracking” sound is actually the sound of small gas bubbles in the joint being released. This is a harmless, painless side effect of treatment.
The goal of this chiropractic technique for sciatica is similar to the diversified technique but gentler. Instead of a high velocity thrust, spinal mobilization uses steady, firm pressure to the spine to guide it into alignment.
When tight fascia is contributing to sciatica, myofascial release can help. Once your chiropractor identifies the area of tightness, they’ll apply steady pressure until the fascia begins to release. This also increases blood flow to the area and can promote healing.
Palmer upper cervical adjustment
While sciatic pain originates in the lower back, there are conditions in the cervical spine that can travel down to the lower spine. If this is the case, an upper cervical adjustment may be a good tool.
Chiropractic exercises for sciatica
When you feel the pain of sciatica creeping up but can’t schedule a chiropractic appointment right away, there are chiropractic exercises for sciatica that can mimic the effects of in-office chiropractic care. Only do these once approved to do so by your doctor.
- Cobra pose: This pose compresses the lower vertebrae and then provides release
- Child’s pose: Offers a long, lengthening stretch along the whole spine
- Knees to chest: Rocking on your back with your knees to your chest gives a gentle opening and massage to the back muscles at the same time
At-home stretches will not replace seeing a chiropractor for sciatica, but it can be a stopgap measure until your next appointment. Ask your chiropractor for suggestions on the most helpful pain-relieving stretches for sciatica for you.
Many chiropractors don’t just offer manipulations and adjustments. Doctors of chiropractic have extensive, general medical training and may also specialize in complementary treatments. This can include things like:
- Recommendations for lifestyle changes (including ergonomic recommendations)
- Exercise and nutritional counseling
- Information on supplements
- Complementary treatments (e.g., meditative exercise, acupuncture, and biofeedback)
Because they are focused on holistic treatment options, chiropractors may recommend concurrent treatment options to address your overall wellness, not just your sciatic pain.
What can I expect during my chiropractor appointment?
At your first chiropractic appointment, expect to spend a good amount of time discussing your medical history. Your chiropractor will want to know:
- What symptoms you are currently experiencing
- How long you have had those symptoms
- Pain level on a daily basis and what makes it worse or better
- Diagnosis (if any) from other doctors
- Family history
- General lifestyle information (e.g., diet and activity levels)
- Current medications or treatments
- Any other health concerns you have
If you have a diagnosis from your doctor, your chiropractor will want to see that, as well as any tests or X-rays you have to support the diagnosis.
After they gather all of this information, your chiropractor will conduct a physical exam. This is usually conducted while you are fully clothed. It usually consists of range of motion exercises and palpation of the painful area.
If you do not have a formal diagnosis, your chiropractor may order imaging studies (e.g., X-rays or CT scans) to see if there is any visible injury or spinal misalignment.
From all of this information, your chiropractor will then affirm your doctor’s diagnosis and develop a treatment plan, or they will have more information to make a diagnosis of their own.
Once a diagnosis is confirmed, they’ll start care depending on the best approach for your condition.
Will chiropractic care for sciatica hurt?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions that is completely understandable. After all, you are already in pain. Why would you want to receive treatment that hurts?
The good news is that most patients find chiropractic care for sciatica to be pain-free. In fact, most people experience immediate pain relief after treatment. Sometimes the adjustment may cause brief discomfort, but that should pass quickly.
If you do experience increased pain during treatment, tell your doctor immediately. Their goal is to provide comfort and healing, not a worsening of symptoms.
What will recovery be like?
Recovery from chiropractic care is usually easy and uneventful. In most cases, you can receive treatment and go on about your daily life as usual. You may feel lingering muscle soreness, but that should ease quickly.
There are a few people for whom chiropractic care is not recommended. If you have severe osteoporosis or cancer of the spine, chiropractic care is not a good choice.
In some cases, herniated or bulging discs may be made worse by chiropractic care. If you experience tingling in the legs, loss of bowel or bladder control, or weakness in the lower extremities, head to your nearest emergency room for treatment. For people at risk of stroke, cervical (neck) adjustments are not recommended. These can increase the risk of stroke.
Overall, chiropractic care is generally recognized safe, with few side effects.
How many visits will I have to a chiropractor for sciatica?
In general, most patients find relief from symptoms within six to ten visits to the chiropractor. This is a generalization, though. You might find you need many more or far fewer. Your chiropractor can tell you what to expect at your first visit, including how many visits you might need and how often. They’ll also discuss the treatment plan during the acute phase of treatment and potential options as you move into maintenance, or ongoing, care.
Other sciatica treatments
Sciatica is a complicated condition that responds best to variety of treatments. In addition to using chiropractic exercises for sciatica, other sciatica treatments than can help include:
- Physical therapy: Targeted exercise that builds muscular support for the spine
- Deep tissue massage: Deep tissue massage can release muscle tension that causes pressure on the sciatic nerve
- Acupuncture: This complementary treatment triggers endorphin production and can ease pain
- Medications: Over-the-counter and prescription medication helps to ease inflammation and pain
- Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENs): TENS machines replace painful nerve signals with a mild electrical buzz
- Epidural steroid injections (ESI): Medications for pain and inflammation are injected directly to the affected nerves
- Lysis of adhesions: Lysis of adhesions breaks up the scar tissue that is causing pressure and pain
- Disc decompression: For opening up the intervertebral space and relieving pressure
- Spinal cord stimulation (SCS): An implanted device that “mutes” pain signals
- Intrathecal pump implants: These implants deliver regular, powerful pain relief
- Percutaneous discectomy: Damaged disc material is removed to create space between the vertebrae
Sciatica can be challenging to treat, but you do have options.
If you’re in Arizona and are considering seeing a chiropractor for sciatica, Arizona Pain can help. We believe in creating comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each person in pain. Get in touch to schedule your appointment today!