Sciatica is one of those medical terms that most people have heard of. People are also aware that this is a painful, albeit common, condition. Often times, when someone has an instance of lingering lower back pain, they wonder whether it could be sciatica. Statistically speaking, however, a given episode of lower back pain — even if it is chronic — might not be sciatica.
If you’re wondering whether you might have sciatica, it’s important to get the facts about what this condition is, and what kind of symptoms it produces. Once you have a good handle on this information, you’ll have a much clearer idea of whether or not sciatica could be the cause.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition in which the sciatic nerve — which originals in the lumbar spine and reaches down both legs — is pinched or pressured in a way that’s not natural. A pinched or herniated disc is the most frequent culprit.
Because the sciatic nerve is such a large and prominent nerve, pain typically shoots down one or both legs when the nerve is pinched. Contrary to popular belief, sciatica doesn’t always produce pain in the lower back. Nerve pain in the legs, however, is a classic symptom.
The leg-raise test
Medical doctors and doctors of chiropractic will often perform a “leg raise test” in order to determine whether sciatica could actually be the cause of symptoms. The patient lies flat on her back, and the straight legs are raised — one at a time — anywhere from 25 to 70 degrees. When the sciatic nerve is pinched or pressured, this test will usually produce shooting pain in the entire leg, or exclusively below the knee.
Range-of-motion and other specific tests will often be used to diagnose (or rule out) sciatica. Neurological tests that include reflex testing and muscular strength are also commonly used. In some cases, medical doctors and chiropractors will request medical imaging to get a clearer look at the problem. This could include x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI.
Guesswork isn’t the answer!
As with any medical condition, guesswork and self-diagnosis is never the most effective path to improvement and recovery. Often times — especially if the symptoms are bothersome but not excruciating — people will self-diagnose themselves with sciatica — or rule it out when it actually is present. In some cases, people will research certain stretches online that are supposed to help with sciatica. They might also take supplements or over-the-counter remedies. Of course, some of these measures can be effective in providing temporary relief, but if the root cause of the problem isn’t discovered and treated, the problem will usually persist through time.
Chiropractic specialists are adept at diagnosing and treating sciatica, since it’s such a common problem. Most professional chiropractors see and treat hundreds of cases of sciatica each year. Gentle spinal adjustments can restore function to the lower spine, and permanently relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. But it’s important to maintain realistic expectations and to discuss your treatment plan with both your primary care provider and your chiropractor in order to ensure the best treatment and results.