As a chiropractor, I see quite a few patients demonstrating the symptoms of sciatica. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body and spans from the lower back to the foot on both sides of the body. Typically sciatica presents itself as pain in the low back, buttock, thigh, leg and foot on one side of the body (both sides can occur). Other symptoms can include weakness of the leg and foot muscles, a sensation of pins and needs, tingling and numbness.
Sciatica is not a diagnosis but rather a word which describes the symptoms described above. It is caused by irritation or compression of the nerve roots as they leave the spinal cord in the low back or of the sciatic nerve itself which is eventually formed from these nerve roots.
- There are many causes of sciatica which can all cause the same symptoms. Therefore, it is important to get a proper diagnosis of what is causing an individual’s sciatic symptoms because treatment will differ accordingly. A common cause of sciatic symptoms is a herniated disc but other causes include:
- A narrowing of the spinal canal or a narrowing of the holes where the nerve roots exit the spine which is referred to as stenosis.
- When one segment of the spine moves slightly forward on the underlying spinal segment (spondylolisthesis).
- A tumor affecting the spinal cord or the sciatic nerve itself.
- Direct trauma to the spine or sciatic nerve.
Piriformis syndrome can also affect the sciatic nerve when it is overly tight or in spasm. Piriformis syndrome will be discussed in detail in a later post.
The first exercise I want to discuss is a McKenzie Exercise which is beneficial when a patient is suffering from sciatic symptoms due to a disc herniation. By doing this exercise over time it can reposition the disc fragments taking pressure off of the involved nerve. This exercise begins with the patient lying face down on a solid surface. Next the patient will lift his chest off the ground and support himself on his forearms. The position can be kept as is or modified by moving the torso to the right or left by 45 degrees. The idea here is to find the most relieving position for the patient. Once this ideal position is found it should be maintained for a minute. This exercise should be repeated 5 times throughout the day. Over time the patient should notice the symptoms in his foot should begin to lessen, followed by the leg and so on which is a sign the treatment is working.
The second exercise is called nerve flossing. The purpose of nerve flossing is to pull from one end of a nerve while keeping the other end of the nerve relaxed. Nerve flossing pulls the nerve free from any entrapments or adhesions along its path. For this exercise the patient is seated on a chair that his feet can be brought under. This exercise is done with the affected leg(s). First, the patient will tuck their head and draw their chin to their chest while flexing one leg at the knee under the chair. The patient then slowly moves into the next position where their head is extended looking at the ceiling with their knee straight and toe pointed at the ceiling. The patient slowly moves from one position to the other for 10 repetitions of the full cycle.
I was inspired to write this blog post because my grandfather (Pepe) came in to see me for treatment at my office just over a week ago. He has bilateral sciatica. Along with in office chiropractic treatment, I prescribed the above two exercises for him to do at home. So far his symptoms have slightly improved and I expect to see further progress over time.
If you’ve had any relief from you sciatica symptoms doing these exercises share you experiences in the comments section.
To your health!