Sciatica Treatment: A Springfield, IL Chiropractor’s Perspective
As a chiropractor who helps people with sciatica in Springfield, IL not a day goes by where we don’t have a patient who comes in with lower back pain that is traveling down one or both of their legs. This is a condition known as sciatica, which occurs when the sciatic nerve gets compressed or irritated. The sciatic nerve is the largest in the body and is actually composed of 5 different spinal nerves that travel down the leg together. These nerves split into many branches that travel all the way down to the toes. Together, they control all functions of the thighs, legs, and feet.
Sciatica can be present with various symptoms, but the most common is pain that travels down the back of the leg. It can also present with symptoms such as numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness, potentially all the way down to the feet and toes. This can be debilitating and can make everyday life activities difficult to perform. It is a condition that can affect anyone, but those most at risk include people who sit for long periods of time each day (i.e. at a desk), people who are overweight or have diabetes, and people who do a lot of bending or lifting. Most people fall into one of these three categories, which is unfortunately why sciatica is such a prevalent condition in our society today.
Like many conditions, sciatica can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute sciatica refers to an active injury or problem that has recently begun, like a disc injury from lifting something too heavy. This is usually sharper, more intense pain because of the inflammation and irritation affecting the sciatic nerve. It is critical to treat acute sciatica as soon as possible to avoid the risk of it becoming a chronic issue. Chronic sciatica can be difficult to treat because it is usually from an older problem from years ago. Your body is so used to it being there that it almost considers it “normal” for it to be there. However, that doesn’t make it less bothersome or frustrating to live with. Chronic cases of sciatica usually take longer to heal, but there is still hope if the right treatment plan is put in place. As such, chiropractic is very well placed to help people who suffer from sciatica because chiropractic addresses the root cause of the problem. Whether it is a disc injury, dysfunction in the spine, or a muscle problem, our doctors are capable of getting you back to living the life you want to live.
How We Treat Sciatica In Springfield, IL
Comprehensive Consultation and Exam
New patients who are suffering from sciatica will always begin their experience at the Springfield Wellness Center with a New Patient consultation and exam. Our doctors will sit down with you and go over your history with you so they can better understand your condition and how you got to this point. They will take the time to listen to you, and they want to find out what impact this is having on your life, specifically the things you enjoy doing that you no longer can do. They also want to hear your goals and what you hope to achieve through care. This ensures that you and your doctor will be on the same page and can work towards these goals as a team.
After the consultation, our doctors will perform a thorough exam that will consist of orthopedic, functional movements, and chiropractic testing to help pinpoint the origin of the issue. Is it a disc problem? A spine problem? A muscle problem? Once the cause of the problem is determined, the doctor will be able to give you his best recommendations for care that will meet your goals and get you back to all the things you love to do.
Specific Chiropractic Care | Springfield, IL
When a vertebra (spinal bone) is not in the correct position, it can put pressure on the nerve at the level of your spine. This is known as subluxation, and chiropractors are experts at identifying and correcting these spinal misalignments. When subluxation is putting pressure on or irritating the nerves that feed into your sciatic nerve, the discomfort can be immense. Through chiropractic adjustments, our doctors are able to restore normal alignment in the spine and alleviate the pressure on that nerve. This can reduce pain and give your body a chance to heal and function properly.
Because sciatica is a complex issue that often has overlapping causes, it can take time to fully address your problem. This is why your doctor creates a customized care plan for you to follow. The nervous system heals slowly, so you must be patient with your body as it heals, especially if the problem has existed for a long time. If the cause is properly addressed, then the prognosis will still be very favorable.
Spinal Decompression | Springfield, IL
Perhaps one of the most important treatment modalities at the Springfield Wellness Center for sciatic pain is spinal decompression (traction). Disc degeneration and disc herniation are the 2 most common causes of sciatica that can be significantly helped through decompressing the spine. When you have a herniation, the disc is pressing on the nerve, irritating the nerve. By stretching the lower back, negative pressure is created in the disc which allows the disc material to return to its normal spot between the vertebrae and away from the nerve. If you have disc degeneration, your discs have lost their normal height, meaning the space where the nerve exits the spine is smaller than it should be. This ultimately chokes the nerve and inhibits its function. Decompressing the spine opens the joint and disc space more so the nerve can have more room to function.
Custom Therapeutic Exercise Plan
A key element to ensuring both stability and mobility in the spine is having a balanced muscle structure. This means that the muscles on both sides of your spine are pulling equally, which allows your spine to have full range of motion with less risk of creating subluxation. Muscle imbalance is one of the most common reasons why subluxation occurs because one side is pulling on the spine more than the other. We need to train these muscles to do their job correctly in order to properly support the spine, especially in the lower back region when a problem like sciatica is present.
At our office, we place a huge emphasis on corrective exercise for this very reason. Our chiropractors can adjust folks all day long, but if they don’t have the muscle structure to support the adjustment, then subluxation is going to continue to occur. Whether it is done at home or in the office, our doctors and trainers will give you the right exercises that are unique to your situation. Like any form of exercise, results will only come if they are done consistently. If you follow the guidance of your doctor’s and trainer’s recommendations, getting relief from your sciatica becomes more a question of when, not if, you will start feeling better soon.
Deep Tissue Laser
Another fantastic way to facilitate healing sciatic pain is incorporating laser therapy into your treatment. Deep Tissue Laser is a relatively new treatment modality that involves the use of red light, which penetrates the tissue all the way down to the cellular level. Within the cell, light therapy stimulates the mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of the cell where energy is produced. Through this process, inflammation can be more rapidly extinguished, and the healing process is accelerated.
With sciatica, it is common for a lot of inflammation to be present. Inflammation is a normal immune response, but it is very irritating to nerve tissue. This is why sciatica can be so incredibly painful. Laser therapy can heal the damaged tissue while also minimizing the inflammation in the area. This not only creates pain relief but also helps to address the problem itself at the spinal level.
Common Causes of Sciatica in Springfield, IL
Bulging or Herniated Disc in the Lumbar Spine
One of the most common causes of sciatica is a bulging or herniated lumbar disc. Normally, there is a disc that sits comfortably between any 2 vertebrae in the spine. Each disc has a jelly-like center (nucleus) and cartilage rings around that center. These discs act as shock absorbers in the spine, making the spine a strong and durable structure. However, due to things like repetitive stress or trauma, the cartilage rings become damaged over time. This causes the center of the disc to push further and further away from its normal spot. Once the last ring of cartilage is damaged, the nucleus herniates into the space where the nerves are and can press on these nerves. This causes intense pain traveling down the leg as far down as the foot.
If you have a herniated disc causing sciatica, it is imperative that you receive treatment as quickly as possible. This can be a debilitating condition that can drastically decrease the quality of your life. The longer the issue persists, the more difficult it is to treat. Many disc injuries end up ultimately requiring surgery to fix. If you can catch the problem early, it can be managed and addressed conservatively through therapies like chiropractic, exercise, and decompression.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Another common cause of sciatica is degenerative disc disease. As we age, our discs naturally get smaller and smaller in a process called degeneration. This is a common occurrence in people with arthritis in the spine. People who are at risk for developing degenerative disc disease are people who are overweight or obese, people who smoke, and people who do hard labor throughout their life. When discs get smaller, the space through which spinal nerves exit the spine also gets smaller. If the sciatic nerves get compressed by the lack of space, then it can cause sciatic pain that is located in the lower back or travels down the legs.
It is important to understand that degeneration cannot be reversed. With that being said, it can be slowed and managed to maintain a higher quality of life. Chiropractic care and decompression become essential in maintaining the remaining disc height and nerve space. Otherwise, the degenerative process will continue and the pain and symptoms will get worse.
When there is widespread degeneration in the spine, another condition called spinal stenosis occurs. Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal in which the spinal cord travels. When this space is narrowed, it puts more pressure on your spinal cord and can result in varying symptoms. Not only does it cause sciatica (oftentimes affecting both legs instead of just one), but it can also affect organ function such as bladder or bowel control. For those with spinal stenosis, standing and walking are usually bothersome, while sitting and leaning forward helps relieve pressure. If you’ve ever seen someone at the grocery store leaning over their shopping cart, it is likely because they have stenosis in their spine.
Because the compression is occurring at the spinal cord level, sciatic symptoms are often felt in both legs instead of just one (like a disc herniation). This is extremely uncomfortable and can keep people from walking and other activities of daily living. Chiropractic and spinal decompression are two conservative techniques that can help provide more space for the spine to function and provide relief for those who suffer from this condition.
One of the most common causes of sciatica that chiropractors treat is subluxation. Subluxation occurs when a vertebra in your spine shifts or moves out of its normal position. When this occurs in your lower back, it can put pressure on the nerves that make up the sciatic nerve and cause intense leg pain, burning, numbness, weakness, or other symptoms. Chiropractors are the experts in identifying and correcting subluxation, so it is wise to have your spine checked by a chiropractor if you are experiencing sciatica.
At the Springfield Wellness Center, we address not only the subluxation problem, but also imbalances in the muscles that surround, support, and move your spine. Subluxation often occurs because of these imbalances, so it is important to address muscle imbalances through exercise or massage to allow the chiropractic adjustments to be more effective. Your doctor will customize your care plan to address your sciatica problem and its root causes.
Muscle Strain or Spasm
There are many muscles in and around the lower back and pelvic area. They all have essential functions that allow us to move and function in our daily lives. If you are suffering from sciatica, muscle strain or spasm may be the main cause of, or contribute to, your condition. The muscles around your spine are actually attached to your spine, and if you have a muscle imbalance, they can disrupt your alignment and cause subluxation. This can ultimately cause sciatica if it is occurring in your lower back.
One particular muscle that is associated with sciatic pain is the piriformis muscle. This muscle spans from the sacrum to the hip and is in close proximity to the sciatic nerve as it exits the pelvis and travels down the leg. If the piriformis muscle is irritated or spasming, it can cause the sciatic nerve to also be irritated. Our doctors are specially trained in muscle techniques such as Active Release Technique and Graston Technique to help alleviate tension in the piriformis muscles and reduce sciatic symptoms. Our Massage Therapists are also capable of calming this muscle down to reduce your discomfort and facilitate healing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I see a medical doctor or a chiropractor about sciatica?
Seeing any healthcare provider for your sciatica is a step in the right direction, but seeing a chiropractor would be best as your first point of contact. If your problem can be addressed through natural treatments like chiropractic adjustments, massage, exercise, or spinal decompression, you can avoid costly and risky medical treatments such as prescription medication, injections, or surgery. There is a time and a place for these things, of course, but conservative methods ought to be explored at first.
What is the best treatment for sciatica?
Chiropractors are one of the best healthcare providers for treating sciatica because they address the root cause of your problem. If it is a disc, bone, muscle, or nerve issue, they can facilitate the right treatments to help fix the problem, rather than just masking the pain. The Springfield Wellness Center takes a 360º approach to treating sciatica and has helped thousands of patients find relief from this debilitating condition.
How long does sciatica last?
Sciatica lasts as long as the cause of the problem persists. If there is pressure on the sciatic nerve from a disc or bone in your spine, then sciatica will be present until that issue is dealt with appropriately. Unfortunately, many people suffer for years, or even decades, when there are numerous options for treating sciatica and getting back to living the life you want to live. A physical problem requires a physical solution, and modalities such as chiropractic are well-positioned to provide exceptional care to this suffering population.
Should I go to the gym with sciatica?
If you are going to exercise while experiencing sciatica, it is important that you listen to what your body is telling you. Movement is an important part of the healing process, but too much strain or movement can actually make the condition worse. If you experience more symptoms than usual, it is best to back off by reducing the amount you’re lifting or the number of reps you’re performing. Balance is key when it comes to exercising with a condition like sciatica.
How should I lay with sciatica?
It is recommended you lay on your back or side if you are dealing with sciatic. The back would be ideal because it keeps the spine in a neutral position. However, many people lay on their side when they sleep, so it is important that you make sure your pelvis is balanced. For example, you should use a pillow between your knees to prevent your hips from internally rotating. When hips rotate internally, they cause more strain on the piriformis muscles, which can aggravate the sciatic nerves. Having a pillow between the knees keeps the pelvis in a neutral position and keeps the piriformis muscles relaxed.