How Chiropractors Can Gently Treat Sciatica

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Sciatica is discomfort that many people end up facing at least once in their lives. While sciatica may be quite unpleasant, sciatica treatment is regularly performed by doctors of chiropractic medicine.

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a form of nerve dysfunction, also called peripheral neuropathy, that refers to pain which radiates along the sciatic nerve. This dysfunction can occur when the sciatic nerve is compressed or damaged.

Symptoms include difficulty sitting or standing for long periods of time, tingling, and numbness in the legs and feet. Sciatic pain can be described as dull, achy, sharp, toothache-like, or similar to an electric shock. This pain varies in intensity and frequency and is also one that tends to radiate through the afflicted area.

While it is commonly believed that sciatic pain occurs only in the lower back muscles, the sciatic nerve is one of the longest in the body; running from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down each leg to just above the knee.

What Causes Sciatica?

A large number of factors can trigger sciatica. Many degenerative conditions of the spine such as a herniated disc, a bulging disc, a protruding disc, or a bone spur can cause flare-ups of sciatic pain.

Long term conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, piriformis syndrome, or even constipation can cause also cause sciatica. Alternatively, injury to the pelvis, buttocks, or upper thigh can also trigger a bout of sciatic nerve pain.

Getting a Proper Diagnosis

As a wide range of disorders can cause sciatica, a chiropractor’s first step in treatment is to diagnose what is causing the pain. This process will involve a careful review of your medical history. This will include whether you have recently suffered from an injury, where the pain is located, how the pain feels, what makes the pain better or worse, and how and when the pain started.

If sciatica has been impacting the patient in the long-term, the doctor may perform various imaging tests. This image testing may include x-rays, an MRI, a CT scan, and/or electrodiagnostic tests such as electromyography of NCV. These tests will help to identify possible contraindications to the spine’s adjustment and other chiropractic therapies.

Treatment Options

If you are suffering from sciatica there is an assortment of treatment options available for you and your chiropractor to discuss.

The application of ice or a cold pack is an inexpensive, readily available, and typically effective method of dealing with sciatic pain. Applying cold to the affected area can reduce inflammation and numb pained tissues. This method is best used initially if the pain is sharp and severe. Hot packs or heating pads will often be used as a follow up to cold treatment.

Ultrasound produces a gentle heat created by sound waves to penetrate deep into soft tissues. This gentle heat cultivates improved circulation and helps to reduce spasms, cramping, swelling, stiffness, and sciatic pain.

A TENS unit is a portable, battery-powered, muscle stimulating machine. Varying intensities of electrical current can help to help to control acute pain and reduce spasms. Larger versions of the home-use TENS units are used by chiropractors, physical therapists, and other rehabilitation specialists.

Spinal adjustments are the core of chiropractic care. Manipulations frees restricted movement or the spinal column and helps restore misaligned vertebral bodies. These adjustments reduce the nerve irritability responsible for inflammation, muscle spasm, pain, and other symptoms related to sciatica. These adjustments should be pain free and are proven to be safe and effective.


While chiropractic treatment can assuage many of the maladies that cause sciatica, some disorders are beyond the scope of chiropractic treatment. If the doctor of chiropractic determines that treatment is best sought after by another doctor, then the patient will be referred to another specialty.

In most cases, the referring chiropractor continues to treat the patient and co-manage care with the specialist.