Do you feel pain traveling down the back of your leg or experience numbness or coldness in your foot? If so, you might be suffering from sciatica. In this article, I will explain what sciatica is, its causes, and the approach I use to help people overcome this condition.
For the purposes of our discussion, your lower back consists of five vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs and the sacrum, a triangular bone that connects the spine to the pelvis. The spinal canal, a hollow tunnel through which the spinal cord passes, is situated in the middle of your spinal column. Spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord and exit at each level of the spinal column through openings called neural foramina. Once outside the spine, different groups of these nerves converge to form larger nerves. One such nerve, created by spinal nerves exiting the lower neural foramina in your lower back, is the sciatic nerve.
Thus the sciatic nerve begins at the bottom of your low back and travels down the back of your thigh. It divides into its two terminal branches just above the back of your knee. These terminal branches extend down your shin and calf, reaching your foot, all the way to your toes.
Sciatica occurs when one or more of the spinal nerves that form your sciatic nerve become compressed. This compression can result in pain anywhere along the length of your sciatic nerve, from the buttocks to the foot. Sciatica pain can be described in various ways, including burning, coldness, electrical, pulling, shooting, stabbing, tingling, or a sense of unease. If the compression is significant enough, it can lead to numbness or pins and needles sensations in your foot. It can also lead to weakness in your leg and foot muscles.
The Causes of Sciatica
Several conditions can cause sciatica, but they all share a common factor— they all narrow the openings through which one or more of the sciatic spinal nerves pass as they exit the spinal column.
Three common causes include:
- Disc Bulges: A disc bulge occurs when the gel inside of the intervertebral disc migrates to the outer rings of the disc, causing a bulge. When a disc bulges, it can narrow the nerve exit openings, causing compression. This is a common cause of sciatica in younger individuals.
- Arthritic Changes: Arthritis can lead to spinal canal or foraminal narrowing due to joint enlargement, bone spurs, or thickened ligaments. This is a common cause of sciatica in older individuals.
- Spondylolisthesis: This condition occurs when one vertebra slips relative to the one below it, altering the spinal canal’s size and foraminal spaces. This can happen in both younger and older individuals.
Due to the diverse causes of sciatica, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. Different types of sciatica require different approaches. If you have sciatica from a disc bulge, bending forward may worsen symptoms, while bending backward may provide relief. On the other hand, if you have sciatica from arthritic changes, bending forward may relieve your symptoms, while bending backward may worsen your symptoms.
Therefore, to successfully treat your sciatica, you must identify the specific type you have. Once you know what type of sciatica you have, you can address and alleviate the cause of that type of sciatica. Alleviating the cause will result in the compression being removed from the affected spinal nerves, allowing the sciatica to resolve.
As a certified McGill Method provider and chiropractor, that is how I help people overcome their sciatica. If you’re seeking relief from sciatica, click on the Book Appointment button and fill in the form. Feel free to share this information with others who may benefit. Let’s work together to overcome your sciatica and get you back to a life no longer dominated by back pain.