Sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy is one of the most common causes of back and leg pain, often caused by inflammation or injury of the sciatic nerve that runs from your lower back, back of your legs, and into the feet. This condition may make you feel pain, weakness, and numbness in your lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet. The pain associated with it is usually dull, sharp, and shooting, but you can easily manage at home. However, severe cases of the condition require medical treatment from doctors or chiropractors.
What is Sciatica
Sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy is the name of any given pain associated with irritation or compression on the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve runs from the back of the pelvis, through the buttocks, legs, and ending at your feet. It causes debilitating lower back pain, extending down the hips and legs. Although most individuals find it goes away naturally within a couple of days or weeks. However, some cases can last for a year or more.
Common Causes of Sciatica
A person may acquire this medical condition when they experience irritation or damage in their sciatic nerve. Several illnesses or disorders can cause these, including:
In most cases associated with lumbar radiculopathy, most of them were caused by a slipped disc, which occurs when one of the discs sitting between your spine's vertebrae gets damaged and presses on the nerves around it. These spinal discs provide cushioning between each spinal vertebra or the bony part of your spinal cord, and if one of them gets moved slightly out of place, it can place stress on the sciatic nerve.
When these scenarios happen, it can result in herniated discs, also known as ruptured discs or slipped discs. Herniated discs usually result from bulging discs, and it causes more pain than the latter as it generally protrudes farther, irritating the nerve roots.
Although it's not clear what causes these damages, the most accepted reason is aging as you get older, these discs become less flexible and are more likely to rupture.
A bulging disc is when the inner nucleus of your vertebral disc protrudes towards its outer layer. This condition can happen when an extensive amount of pressure is placed on the disc or degenerated from age. It's a common cause of lumbar radiculopathy, but it has a lower chance of inflicting pain than herniated discs because it doesn't extend as far. However, bulging discs can progress into a herniated disc when you leave it untreated.
Degenerative Disc Disease
This medical condition refers to regular changes taking place in the discs of your spine, causing pain. These discs act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae or bony parts of your spine, and they help your back remain flexible, allowing you to bend or twist. However, spinal discs can wear out over time, leading to increased stress on your sciatic nerves, causing lumbar radiculopathy. You can expect to acquire degenerative disc disease as you get older if you don't take good care of your spine.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, and it's known by many names, including degenerative joint disease or 'wear and tear' arthritis. This condition happens when the cartilage between your bones break down, resulting in painful, swollen, and hard to move joints. It often occurs in the hands, knees, and hips. When these sudden changes happen, it can cause compression on the sciatic nerves, resulting in sciatica symptoms.
You may notice your 'center of gravity' changing and your joints becoming more elastic during pregnancy. These changes can result in sciatica-related back pain and nerve pain in your buttocks or legs. Other times, the baby's position inside your abdomen can also stress your sciatic nerve, causing pain.
Other causes include injuries attained from fractures or other accidents. Sometimes spinal tumors, spinal stenosis, and never damage to certain diseases like diabetes or other conditions affecting the sciatic nerve can cause lumbar radiculopathy.
Symptoms of Sciatica
When your sciatic nerve experiences irritation or compression, you may feel the following symptoms:
- Moderate to severe pain in your buttocks, lower back, legs, or feet
- A tingling sensation (pins and needles) that radiates from your lower back down to your toes
- Weakness in your calf muscles, responsible for moving your foot and ankle, can result in loss of movement
- Weakness or numbness in your buttocks, lower back, legs, or feet
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
Standard pain associated with the medical condition can range from mild to debilitatingly painful and may be made worse when you sneeze, cough, or sit for an extended period. Although pain related to lumbar radiculopathy can be severe, you can manage it at home with ease.
Sciatica Treatment at Home
Many mild sciatica cases will typically go away on its own in a few days. Still, if you're experiencing sciatica symptoms, you can lessen the pain by following these home remedies:
- Use Cold Packs
Applying cold or ice packs to the affected area can provide temporary relief. For the best results, place ice on the part for 20 minutes at least two to three times a day. The length will depend on the severity of the pain. Cold therapy is the most efficient when you do it as soon as you begin experiencing symptoms.
Minimizing your physical activities can help decrease additional irritation or compression on your sciatic nerve, giving the affected area more time to heal. Although resting is a great way to achieve this, bed rest isn't ideal as it can worsen the pain. It's best if you get up and move around gently while avoiding any sharp movements that can increase your discomfort.
Gentle stretching exercises on your lower back can help relieve nerve compression and irritation, alleviating the pain efficiently. However, it's best if you avoid twisting your back and go for slow to gradual stretches.
- Take Prescribed Anti-inflammatory Medication
Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen can temporarily relieve sciatica-related pain and decrease in the affected areas. However, this can cause adverse side effects when not done correctly.
Although you can manage lumbar radiculopathy at home, when the pain becomes unbearable or when you become temporarily immobile because of it, it's time you consider visiting a medical professional.
When to Seek Medical Help
If you think your symptoms are unbearable, it's time for you to seek medical attention. Doctors can confirm a diagnosis of lumbar radiculopathy based on your symptoms, recommending the appropriate treatment afterward. However, sometimes, they may refer you to see a specialist doctor, physiotherapist, or chiropractor for further assistance.
You should immediately contact your local hospital if you're experiencing all of the following symptoms:
- Tingling and numbness on your legs and your buttocks
- A recent loss of bladder or bowel control
- Sciatica in both legs
Although rare, all these symptoms can be a sign of a medical condition called cauda equina syndrome. If left untreated, cauda equina syndrome can lead to severe or irreversible damage like paralysis of the legs and chronic incontinence.
Healthcare professionals will perform a simple test called the passive straight leg raise test to determine if you have lumbar radiculopathy. The test involves lying flat on your back, legs straight, and the physician, chiropractor, or physiotherapist lifting one leg at a time. If lifting one of your legs causes sharp pain, it usually suggests you have lumbar radiculopathy.
If you're looking for a practical, affordable, and natural way of treating your sciatica, visiting a chiropractor is the best choice.
How a Chiropractor Can Help with Sciatica
Although pain related to lumbar radiculopathy can be debilitating, chiropractic treatment can relieve it quickly, gently, and naturally. Chiropractors aim to alleviate your discomfort, without costly or adverse side effects.
Here's how a chiropractor can help with lumbar radiculopathy or sciatica:
- Accurate Diagnosis
If you think you're experiencing pain because of the condition, a chiropractor can give you an accurate diagnosis by examining and reviewing your medical history.
- Chiropractic Massage Therapy
Chiropractic massage can relieve pain associated with lumbar radiculopathy by allowing your deep muscles to relax and release endorphins, which will act as natural painkillers inside your body.
- Heat and Cold Therapy
Many chiropractors have been alternating heat and cold therapy to provide swift relief from pain on your sciatic nerves. The heat relieves tight muscles and dulls the discomfort away while its counterpart, the cold, slows down blood flow, easing inflammation.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
Chiropractors can employ transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units to relieve pain. It's a small battery-powered nerve stimulating tool that helps ease muscle spasms and pain by increasing endorphin production.
Chiropractic care is a fantastic way to relieve pain associated with sciatica, allowing you to receive treatment that's more effective, affordable, and natural.
If you're looking for a reputable chiropractor to help you, Dr. Jacob Tucker has got your back. He's a specialist chiropractor based in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, providing various treatments for management and pain relief of neuromuscular conditions like sciatica.
Dr. Tucker can perform accurate clinical examinations x-rays for diagnosis and treat patients with chiropractic practices, including manual adjustments, vertebral manipulations, and more.
Book an appointment with Dr. Jacob Tucker today and get a personalized treatment just for you, relieving pain and improving your overall quality of life.