Sciatica can be extremely painful and debilitating. Most of the time, sciatica will get better after about six weeks but, for some people, it becomes a more chronic issue and can last a lot longer. For these people, surgery is usually suggested as a treatment. Chiropractic care can offer non-surgical interventions that can help with both acute and chronic sciatic pain.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down to the toes. When it becomes irritated or compressed, often by a herniated disc, it can cause quite severe pain. The pain is felt in the bottom, the back of the leg, the feet, and the toes. Some people also experience lower back pain. As well as the pain, people often experience tingling (like pins and needles), numbness, and weakness. Most of the time, movement makes the pain worse.
What are the treatments for sciatica?
Medical treatments for sciatica can include painkilling drugs or injections, a procedure to seal off some of the nerves, exercise and physiotherapy, and spinal decompression surgery.
Spinal decompression surgery can take a few different forms including removing a section of bone, removing a section of the damaged disc, or fusing two or more vertebrae together. The surgery can be effective, but is not without its risks, including infection, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and damage to the spinal nerves or cord (in the worst cases this can result in paralysis).
How can chiropractic care help with sciatic pain?
Chiropractic care clinicians are experts in the spine and they are able to provide a variety of treatments to help with both acute and chronic sciatica.
Spinal manipulation is what chiropractic care is best known for. The clinician will use their hands to make precise thrusts on the joints in the spine. For sciatica, this can allow herniated discs to rest back into place, take the pressure off the sciatic nerve, and ease muscle spasms.
Traction is often used for patients with sciatica. It stretches the spine, creating space between the discs. This space can allow the bulging disc material to go back in and can promote the passage of healing nutrients to the affected area. Traction can either be done manually or mechanically. Manual traction involves the chiropractic care clinician using their hands to put people into traction and then using manual force on the joints and muscles to pull the vertebrae apart. With mechanical traction, the patient lies on a table, and ropes, slings, and pulleys are used to stretch the spine.
Non-surgical spinal decompression
The theory behind non-surgical spinal decompression is the same as for traction. Instead of using manual or mechanical force, however, it uses precise computerized calculations and a computerized table to decompress the spine. The patient wears a harness around their waist and lie on a table, the bottom of which can move. A computer uses sensors place on the patient's body to direct the bottom part of the table to pull apart to just the right length. Usually, multiple cycles of decompression and rest are used during each session.
Other treatments offered with chiropractic care for sciatica can include massage therapy, heat and cold therapy, exercise and stretching, and lifestyle advice.
Sciatica can be extremely painful, and patients are often desperate for relief from their pain. Chiropractic care can offer a drug and surgery-free treatment plan, with low risks and few side effects, that can be effective at managing and treating sciatic pain.