Can a chiropractor help sciatica? If you have shooting pain, tingling or numbness, down your leg please stay tuned. Today I want to talk about one method of treating sciatica, which is chiropractic care. I will discuss what sciatica pain is, how a chiropractor might help, and finally get into my personal experience.
What is sciatica?
I just wrote a post about sciatica, but I can provide you with an overview here. Sciatica refers to pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower spine all the way down the backs of your legs, to your feet. This is the longest nerve in the body.
Pain typically runs down one side of the body, in my case the right-hand side. I have felt pain in my calf, outside of my knee, all the way down to my toes. You may experience shooting pain, or tingling in the lower extremity.
Sciatica is not itself a diagnosis, but a symptom. The sciatic nerve itself is irritated or compressed, for example by a herniated disc, and this causes pain along the nerve path. This pain along the nerve is what people refer to as sciatica. Sciatica is not a disorder, but a symptom of a disorder.
How do you know if have sciatica
To know if you may be dealing with sciatica, you might be experiencing:
- Pain below your knee, possibly in your ankle, even toes
- The pain may be a dull or shooting pain
- You may feel tingling in your lower leg
- It can be really difficult to find a comfortable position to sit or lay down
- The pain can be intermittent, constant and the intensity level can vary
This pain can be debilitating, as I have experienced. It is always fun (not really) when you cannot bend over to put shoes and socks on, and I will not even get into other articles of clothing. Let’s just say my wife had to help a fully grown man get dressed in the morning.
What causes sciatica?
There are varieties of conditions that can cause sciatic nerve pain including:
- Herniated or bulging discs
- Disc degeneration
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
Can a chiropractor help sciatica?
The short answer is yes, but not how you may think. First, you need a proper diagnosis to know exactly what is causing the pain. In my case, the chiropractor pretty much knew when I walked in the door what was going on, but that will not always be the case.
You may need to have some imaging tests completed, like x-rays, or an MRI. I had an MRI when I blew a disc and sprained my SI joint in 2015. Even though my chiropractor knew what had happened to me, he still wanted an image just to make sure nothing else was going on in there.
Chiropractors do not always crack you
Chiropractic care is non-surgical and some people turn to a chiro after surgery has not worked. The basic premise is to help your body heal itself. In my case, I started out with ice for many weeks, in order to reduce swelling so that adjustments could be made later.
Chiropractors don’t only make adjustments, but they also assess your condition and recommend different treatment accordingly.
Some of the methods used are:
- Ice therapy
I started out with ice, to reduce swelling in my SI joint. When the swelling was under control, I used a traction device in the office. This was a very gentle way to help with my condition as well. Traction is used for decompression to relieve pressure on the spine.
So a good chiropractor will assess your condition and figure out the best way to begin treatment.
Of course, they will perform spinal manipulation as well, and this is what chiropractors are best known for. Adjustments should not hurt; the goal is to position the spine properly and take pressure off of the nerve.
Sciatica may be the result of something that a chiropractor cannot fix; in that case, they will refer you to another type of doctor. The chiropractor may treat you in conjunction with the other doctor.
An example is my chiropractor did refer me to a clinic for injections to alleviate some of the pain I was going through. He would continue to treat me, but the injections would be to take the edge off. I opted for no injections since that had not worked for me in the past.
My personal experience
My back problems started in my late 20’s, which is not very common for most people. I was hobbling around as if I was a very old man.
I did not suffer a traumatic event that would have started my back problems, but gradually, I started having dull, sometimes shooting pain in my right calf. That led to doctor visits and physical therapy. The doctors had me try injections, to no avail. Finally, I was left with surgery as my option.
Therefore, at 27 years old, I had back surgery. Since then I have been through more problems over the years. 2011 was the first time I have ever heard a “pop” in my back. I went to a back pain specialist and he put me on painkillers and told me to try an inversion table. The inversion table hurt and the pain medication did nothing.
After more visits, the doctor told me to stop using the inversion table (he never told me how to use it properly, which I will get into later). We tried more shots, but nothing was working. I was dead-set against another back surgery, but that was the option I was given. The back pain doctor told me not to see a chiropractor.
I opted to just deal with the pain. My 2011 episode lasted 16 months. I hobbled around in pain for a very long time, finding it very difficult to drive to work, and even harder to walk from the parking lot to my desk.
I am sure you can see the theme here. Finally, in late 2015, I was doing things at the gym that I should not have been doing, for a person with a history of disc problems. I ended up with a sprained SI joint and blown disc. I was dealing with stenosis and I could not stand upright. I slept propped up on the couch for weeks until I could finally sleep in my bed.
I went to see a highly recommended chiropractor. I am so glad I did. I figured surgery would always be an option if this did not work.
We took things slow; I was “a mess” as he told me. I had never healed correctly from my previous injuries and that was evident now.
As I mentioned earlier, the chiropractor asked me about my history and devised a plan. I had to ice my back, about 5 times per day to get the swelling in my SI joint to subside.
I eventually moved on to traction, adjustments, massage and finally an inversion table. The inversion table was key for me. My chiropractor taught me the right way to use an inversion table. You do not just strop yourself in and swing upside down, as this can do more harm than good.
When I first started with the chiropractor, I could not use the inversion table, because of the stenosis I was not able to lay flat.
Finally, I was able to start on a very slight angle and then increase that over time. Eventually, I made it to about a 60-degree angle and to this day, I use that same angle.
Six months of seeing the chiropractor twice per week, I was finally able to start working out again. This time my chiro gave me a plan on how to build and maintain muscle (especially core) so that I can help my back. Not saying that I am cured of all ills, but changing the way I workout and knowing my limitations is huge for me going forward.
My chiropractor is a big muscular dude who has back problems himself. He is very much an advocate for exercising and building muscle to support the spine.
All right, that is my take on chiropractic care for sciatica. My experience has been nothing but positive. I know you have to find a good chiro, and other people have had very different experiences. I just wanted to let people know that in my opinion, chiropractic care is an option for dealing with sciatica.
I am interested to get your feedback.
Have you worked with a chiropractor?
If so, what ailments were you dealing with?
Have you had good or bad experiences with a chiropractor?
I appreciate you stopping by to read this post today. If you have questions or comments, please leave them below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.