Close to the width of a human thumb, the Sciatic nerve happens to be the longest nerve in the human body. It begins at the lower back and stretches down the leg. Then it connects to two other nerves below the knee known as the Tibial nerve and the common fibular nerve. Continuing down to the foot, the nerve finally ends by branching out at the heel.
Sciatica describes the general symptom of pain starting in the lower back and traveling down the leg, however it can specifically mean a “nerve dysfunction caused by compression of one or more lumbar or sacral nerve roots from a spinal disc herniation (Wikipedia). It is a true pain in the butt.
Two main causes of Sciatica are disc protrusion (disc hernia) and/or contraction of the Piriformis muscle.
When the Piriformis muscle contracts it can pinch and severely irritate the Sciatic nerve.
Similarly, the swelling and inflammation from a herniated disc (especially in the lower back) can put pressure on the Sciatic.
Both of these conditions can cause extreme pain and numbness.
Treatments for sciatica vary, depending on the exact cause, pain intensity and how long the pain has continued.
A qualified chiropractor can diagnose, minimize pain, and provide a roadmap to reduce future symptoms. Often times a chiropractor will recommend a mixture of the following treatments:
Stretching is one of the easiest ways to reduce pain in the Sciatic nerve.
Depending on the exact cause of the Sciatica the chiropractor will suggest one of these two stretches.
Often referred to as the McKenzie Stretch (for disc protrusion), first lie on your belly supporting yourself with your elbows. This position stretches out the lower back muscles (where Sciatic nerve branches out) and brings space between the disc and the nerve. If done often, this may remove disc protrusion Sciatica permanently.
To stretch the Piriformis lie on your back, lift your knee up, and hold it towards your chest. Since Sciatica caused by the contraction of the Piriformis is extremely painful, be slow and careful while doing this stretch.
Application of Ice & Heat
Chiropractors and doctors also highly recommend icing the lower back every two hours for the first 24 hours after diagnosis. Fifteen minutes each session should be fine and with an icepack covered by a thin towel. Then apply heat in the same area for the next 48 hours to increase circulation.
Many chiropractors also recommend low impact exercising which can be bicycling, swimming, or yoga since heavy muscle exercises may worsen your condition.
Sciatica can be temporarily fixed by pain medication such as Tylenol and Advil. Ask your chiropractor or doctor if anti-inflammatory medications should be taken.