The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. The sciatic nerve exits the lumbar spine down into the buttock, then branches into smaller nerves as it travels down the legs into the feet. It provides feeling to your thighs, legs, and feet and controls many of the muscles in your lower legs. Sciatica is a very specific nerve problem that involves radiating pain from the lumbar spine (low back) to your buttock and down the back of the leg. Sciatic nerve pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation. Sciatic pain often starts gradually and intensifies over time. It is more likely to be worse when one sits, coughs, or sneezes due to the increase in intradiscal pressure.
Sciatic nerve pain usually indicates that there is a problem in the lower lumbar spine and it is often a more severe condition than uncomplicated low back pain.
The main causes of sciatica are:
· Subluxations (misalignments) in the spine due to postural issues, pregnancy, or trauma.
· Herniation or bulge of one of the discs in the lower back, usually L5/S1. The bulging disc compresses the nerve root exiting from the low back.
· Disc degeneration causes the disc to narrow, compressing the nerve root exiting from the low back.
· Piriformis Syndrome: a spasm or contracture of the piriformis muscle in the buttock which can put pressure directly on the nerve which travels below it.
The majority of the time, sciatic pain can be relieved with specific chiropractic adjustments to restore proper spinal alignment and function. If there is lumbar disc involvement, we usually use the Cox Flexion/Distraction Technique which allows decompression of the disc by creating a negative vacuum effect, helping suck the protruding disc back into its proper place.