At least 40% of adults experience sciatica during their lifetime. If you could count on getting better, that number may not seem too worrisome. But for half of them, the pain goes on longer than normal and 8% end up with a chronic pain problem.
For some, the pain comes on suddenly. Others experience a gradual increase in symptoms. No matter how your sciatica appears, early treatment can ease your pain and help prevent it from becoming a long-term condition.
Did you know that chiropractic care is recommended as one of the first approaches to relieving sciatica? Our team at iMed Regeneration Center has worked with many patients who have sciatica, using chiropractic techniques that are effective because they get to the source of the pain.
Let’s talk about the source of sciatica, how you end up with the problem, and steps to lower your risks.
Root cause of sciatica
The root cause of sciatica is a pinched sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerves leave your spinal cord at the very base of your spine. One nerve goes down each side of your body, traveling through your buttocks and to the bottom on your left and right legs.
When the nerve is pinched as it leaves the spinal cord, you feel sciatica’s classic symptoms: lower back pain and a sharp, electric-shock pain that radiates down one leg. You may also have a tingling or a burning sensation in your leg. In severe cases, the leg muscles weaken.
Since sciatica develops due to a pinched nerve, you need to know what causes that problem. Here’s a rundown of the conditions that lead to sciatica.
Herniated discs top the list
It turns out that 90% of all cases of sciatica begin due to a herniated disc. Herniated discs develop from natural wear-and-tear over years of pressure on your spine.
The spinal discs between each vertebra consist of a strong outer cover that surrounds and encloses a gel-like fluid. This structure allows discs to absorb shock, support movement, and stabilize the spine.
Over the years, weak spots develop in the outer cover. You end up with a bulging disc when the inner gel pushes out through a weak area. Eventually, the disc tears open and the gel leaks out. That’s when you have a herniated disc.
Bulging and herniated discs can push against the nerve. And other structures in the spine may move and compress the sciatic nerve as the herniated disc stops supporting the spine.
Other back problems lead to sciatica
Your lower back bears a lot of pressure as it supports your upper body. As a result, the vertebrae are vulnerable to degenerative changes that occur over the years, causing problems such as:
- Bone spurs
- Thickened ligaments
- Degenerative disc disease
These conditions cause sciatica by pushing against the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord.
Rare cause of sciatica
In about 6% of those with sciatic pain, a condition called piriformis syndrome is the cause. This problem begins in the buttocks, where the sciatic nerve passes underneath the piriformis muscle.
If the piriformis muscle spasms, it pinches the nerve. The muscle may spasm from an overuse injury, muscle irritation, muscle tightening or swelling, or even bleeding in the area of the muscle caused by an injury.
Piriformis syndrome causes the same leg symptoms, but you have buttock pain instead of lower back pain.
You can’t stop degenerative changes. Your discs suffer wear-and-tear and lose moisture as they age. Cartilage in the spinal joints wears down, and for some, that means arthritis.
But you can change the risk factors that contribute to degenerative changes. Here are a few recommendations to help prevent sciatica:
- Stay at a healthy weight
- Exercise to strengthen your core muscles
- Maintain good posture
- Wear supportive shoes
- Take breaks from prolonged sitting
- Use proper ergonomics when lifting
Carrying extra weight, maintaining poor posture, and sitting for a long time significantly increase the pressure on your lower back.
Nonsupportive shoes allow excess force from walking and running to go up your legs and into your lower back. And improper lifting strains the lower back muscles.
Making changes to prevent additional pressure and stress on your lower back helps prevent sciatica.
If you need help with sciatica pain, improving your posture, strengthening your muscles, or learning better ergonomics, we can help. Contact our Colorado Springs, Colorado, office today.