HOUGHTON - Radiating pain along the lower back through the hips, buttocks and legs can be a problem for many people. Referred to as sciatica, this type of a pain signals that, for one reason or another, there is pressure being placed on the sciatic nerve.
"Sciatica is a symptom," said Dr. Ted Beir of Copper Country Chiropractic. "It's a sign there is some kind of irritation or compression to the sciatic nerve or one of its roots."
The pressure on the nerve can result from many different physical sources. According to the Mayo Clinic, sciatica "most commonly occurs when a herniated disk or bone spur on the spine compresses part of the nerve," but can also be caused by muscle problems or tumors. The pain generally occurs on one side of the body, following the sciatic nerve from the lower back through the back of one leg. It can vary from "a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating discomfort." If, as in many cases, a bone is putting pressure on the nerve, patients may choose to seek chiropractic care.
Photo courtesy National Institutes of Health
A photo illustration shows the effects of Sciatica.
"We try to relieve that pressure with a chiropractic adjustment. Bones can put pressure on the nerve or pinch in on discs or branches of the nerve and cause irritation, so structurally we go through the body and try to make sure that's not going on," Bier said. "An adjustment is what we do on a bone that is not moving properly with its surrounding pieces. If there is an area that is not going in its usual range of motion, we try to find that area and put light force or pressure on it to move it to where it should be and try to free the pressure off that nerve."
Sciatica can also be treated with a combination of chiropractic care, stretching, physical therapy and icing the area to reduce swelling. How each case is handled depends on the source of the pressure and the individual patient.
"Some cases we will get into and I'll look at the body and find nothing with the bones, so we'll refer the person to physical therapy. Sometimes the area is just really swollen so we'll have them ice it for 48 hours and see how it's healing up," Beir said. "Sometimes it's more severe than that, like a disc problem, in which case we refer them back to a medical doctor."
Since sciatica is a symptom of a problem with the sciatica nerve, there is no cure for it. By addresses whatever is causing pressure to build on the sciatic nerve, sciatica pain can be eradicated. However, reoccurring problems may cause the pain to return.
"Everybody is different. If the underlying cause is something chronic - meaning it is a situation that could continue to reoccur - we'll calm it down but it can flair back up again," Bier said. "In other cases, something is simply out of alignment and we correct it, ice it for 48 hours to get any swelling down and it's gone and doesn't come back, sometimes for years, sometimes never."
In many cases, sciatica pain can be relieved with chiropractic care or physical therapy sessions. If the root of the problem is more serious, a different course of action may be recommended by a doctor. However, regardless of the cause, it is best to get sciatica pain treated as soon as possible.
"The sooner you fix it, the better, so down the road it doesn't become a bigger deal. So many people come in panicking about thinking they have sciatica, but whether with stretching, time, icing the area, or chiropractic care, there are ways to take care of it," Beir said. "Bad cases can happen but most times it's workable if people take the time."
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 906-483-2255.