Sciatica can be Absolutely Debilitating. But Where Did it Come From?
Your sciatic nerve is one of the largest nerves in the body. It starts in your lower back and runs all the way down to the foot; it’s a main component of lower body movement. So when it’s compressed or pinched, the pain or symptoms can be absolutely horrible to experience. And worse, there are different types of sciatica. If it lasts less than 8 weeks, it’s referred to as acute. But more often than not, sciatica is caused by a structural issue in the lower spine, so it becomes chronic, meaning it can last months to years if you’re not able to mitigate it properly.
Chronic sciatica is almost always caused by issues in the L3-S1 vertebrae. You may have a herniated or slipped disc, damage from a traumatic injury, scoliosis, a narrowing of those lower lumbar vertebrae, or any type of degenerative disk or spinal disorder. But sometimes, your piriformis muscle is the culprit. Your piriformis muscle is a deep muscle that connects your lower back to your upper thigh. Piriformis Syndrome is pretty rare, but it basically means that sometimes your piriformis muscle will spasm or contract and will put undue pressure on your sciatic nerve. Unfortunately, no one has been able to really pinpoint what causes the syndrome.
Sciatic Nerve Pain and Radiculopathy
Radiculopathy sounds like a really intimidating word, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Think “radiate.” Sciatic pain tends to radiate from the source (your lower back) down through your leg and possibly all the way to your foot. This is why it can be such an awful pain to experience – at least half of your whole lower body is out of commission anytime your sciatica flares up.
Symptoms of sciatica can include:
- Sharp pain running down the lower back, through the buttocks and down the back of one thigh
- Pain in the lower back that comes and goes with various basic movements
- Sudden and intense onset of lower back pain with simple movements like getting out of bed or bending down to pick something up
- Foot drop – meaning you either can’t flex your foot at all on the affected side or can’t extend the foot (like standing on tiptoe)
- Weakness in any part of the buttocks, leg or foot
- Strange stinging, tingling feelings or even complete numbness in the affected side, which means the nerve isn’t working properly
- Sciatica usually isn’t an emergency situation, even though it may sometimes seem unbearable. However, if you suddenly get nausea/vomiting, a fever, or lose control of your bowels or bladder, it’s time to seek immediate medical attention.
Natural Remedies and Regenerative Medicines May Help Ease Your Pain
This has all been pretty depressing information. And if you’ve spoken to your doctor about your chronic sciatica, depending on the severity, they may have recommended surgical interventions like spinal fusion or a discectomy. But it’s important to understand that these surgeries by no means guarantee relief from pain. And most of us don’t want surgeons poking around that close to our spinal cord, nor do we want to rely on maintenance medications like opiates in order to cover the pain. There are definitely other options to try. Honestly, surgery and a lifelong Vicodin prescription should be your last resort.
Health and wellness centers like ours specialize in natural and regenerative medicines. These tend to be not only minimally invasive, but lack the health risks of chemical pharmaceuticals like painkillers. Often, we’ll recommend a synergistic approach of treatment coupled with lifestyle changes, as the more methods you can use to approach healing, the better chance you have at mitigating or relieving your sciatic pain.
Lifestyle changes you can make include:
- Avoiding “compound” movements like bending and twisting at the same time
- Practicing slow and gentle stretching that decompresses the lower back
- Traction and an inversion table
- Physical therapy that includes strengthening your lower back and “girdle” (read: ab) muscles
- Stop sitting cross legged and pay attention to your posture when sitting in general
Holistic treatments available include:
- Stem cell treatment for lower back pain
- PRP therapy (platelet-rich plasma injections)
- Getting recommended for a medical marijuana prescription
- Massage therapy
- Tens unit sessions (at a health and wellness center or at home)
Sciatica can be awful, but it can also be managed without typical “Western” interventions like opiates or surgery, which carry some pretty real health risks. It’s definitely worth researching medical advice on what daily habits can improve your condition, and locating a regenerative medicine doctor that specializes in holistic and integrative treatments before you take the extreme option and talk to a surgeon.
In our experience at the Blatman Health and Wellness Center almost all cases of sciatica and piriformis syndrome are misdiagnosed myofascial pain stemming from a lifetime of injuries that started in childhood. Symptoms can be impossible to differentiate and there is no pain symptom that cannot come from fascia injury. The only way to tell is by touch, and your doctor is taught how to diagnose by x-ray and MRI scan and likely never really touched you. At the end of the day the only thing you can really believe is what you can touch and feel. Some of the best clues are: where are you specifically tender? If your butt is more tender than your lower back then the suspected disc and sciatic nerve are not likely to be the problem—even if they show on the MRI. A medical study from the mid 1980’s showed that 30% of 40 year old men with no history of low back issues or injury have a herniated disc.