Sciatica is a very uncomfortable, and often debilitating, problem to have. Sciatica is the name given to irritation of the sciatic nerve due to physical interference from body parts along its course from the lower spine, through the pelvis and legs to the feet.
For many when they are experiencing sciatic they will have a hard time using their leg on the affected side and will often lean away from it. Depending on the cause sitting may be unbearable.
We routinely hear the symptoms described as a fire burning in their buttocks or legs. Others may describe it as a dull ache in the back of their legs and sometimes it’s like a lightning bolt shooting down their leg into their feet.
Sciatica Has Different Causes
Being able to identify the cause of the sciatic pain is critical for proper diagnosis and treatment. Sciatica can come with symptoms that mimic other conditions and a seasoned chiropractor can perform a thorough examination to find the cause.
Lower spine subluxation
The sciatic nerve is actually a combination of several nerves coming out of your lower spine and sacrum. They combine to form the sciatic nerve the lies underneath the piriformis muscle in your pelvis and then courses down the back of your leg into your feet.
Misalignments in the bottom two vertebrae and sacrum can cause irritation to the sciatic nerve causing the pain you are feeling. You may or may not have lower back pain with these misalignments, but can still have sciatica pain.
Bulging Disc or Herniated Disc
In between each vertebra of your lower spine there is a cartilaginous disc designed to absorb the shock of movement, be a pivot for spinal movement and create space for nerve roots to exit the spine. These discs can be damaged from direct trauma to your lower back, excessive sitting, poor foot support and improper pelvis or spine mechanics.
When damaged, discs can bulge. This means that the disc is being compressed and results in a ballooning of one side that puts pressure on one of the nerves roots of the sciatic nerve.
Otherwise a disc can herniate. In this case the disc sort of pops and allows the disc material to seep out and contact the nerve root. This causes an incredibly painful situation but it is not from direct pressure, rather the chemical reaction of the two.
The piriformis muscle is a very small muscle in the pelvis that attaches the sacrum to the femur. The sciatic nerve courses underneath it. The piriformis causes trouble when there are misalignments in the lower spine to cause a compensating pelvis alignment change.
The result is that there are some muscles that become very tight and some very loose. Either situation can physically sit on the sciatic nerve causing pain in the buttocks and leg.
Since Lower back pain is so prevalent, it is sometimes confused with sciatica. The assumption is sometimes made that if you are having lower back pain, the sciatic nerve is to blame. This can be true in some cases. It is also important to understand that some causes of lower back pain such as the joints or discs themselves can refer pain into the buttocks.
While this pain may feel like sciatica, the cause doesn’t directly affect or damage the sciatic nerve. This is one of the reasons it is important to work with a seasoned chiropractor who does a thorough exam to ascertain the true source of the problem.
Femoral Nerve Pain
The femoral nerve is also a group of nerves coming out of the lower spine that when there is a misalignment in lower spine vertebra or damaged discs, can cause pain in the lower spine and leg. The difference is that the nerves roots that create the femoral nerve come from different locations in the lower spine and cause pain in the groin and front of your leg.
Gluteal Nerve Pain
Much like the femoral and sciatic nerves, the gluteal nerve is a combination of nerves from the lower spine. This nerve can imitate sciatic pain more pervasively because these nerves originate from some of the same spine levels as the sciatic nerve. These nerves, when they are implicated will cause pain in the buttocks or on the side of the leg in the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) muscle.