Sciatica’s the name, “debilitating lower back pain that extends down the hip and legs” is its game.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
And you’d probably like to get some relief from the pain that has you recliner-bound.
Hear this! Sitting around is not only getting old, it’s also making your symptoms worse. So, when painkillers and hot packs can’t cut the pain, consider visiting a chiropractor.
A chiropractor? For sciatica?
Chiropractors are a great place to start when you have sciatica-like shooting pain or associated symptoms such as leg or foot tingling, numbness or weakness.
“Chiropractors are a portal of entry, meaning you don’t need a referral to see one,” says chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC. “We’re trained to work with musculoskeletal concerns, so we can help identify what’s the root cause of your symptoms.”
Chiropractic care is usually covered under most insurance plans, whether private, Medicare or Medicaid. And a visit to the chiropractor may save you a step. Chiropractors can quickly identify whether your concern needs to be elevated to the next level and if you need to pursue:
- Referrals: A referral to a physical or occupational therapist or an acupuncturist.
- Medications: Talking to your primary care physician about a prescription for short-term use of muscle relaxant, steroid or anti-inflammatory medicines.
- Imaging scans: Getting an X-ray or MRI.
All hands on deck: Motion is lotion when it comes to chiropractic therapy
“People often tell me they don’t know how they hurt their back,” says Dr. Bang. “That’s usually a blaring sign that muscle weakness or tightness is to blame, which is typical given how much sitting we all do.”
Muscles are made up of thousands of small fibers, like a rope created from several small strands of string. With both overuse and underuse, the muscle fibers contract and also influence nearby fibers to contract.
What happens next? A painful “knot” of muscles, known as a trigger point, forms.
“Trigger points can ‘pinch’ the sciatic nerve, causing an intense, radiating pain down the back and legs,” says Dr. Bang. “But trigger points respond well to deep pressure that squeezes the muscle fibers and causes them to relax.”
He adds, “We also know manual therapy like massage can reduce the levels of inflammation-causing compounds near the trigger point.” (Those pro-inflammatory compounds are known as cytokines.)
Big benefits, little risk to hands-on manual therapy
In addition to saving you time, a visit to the chiropractor may also decrease your reliance on painkillers. A study by the American College of Physicians listed these as the first line of defense for lower back pain:
- Applying heat.
“Anti-inflammatory pain relievers and muscle relaxants are a second course for treating pain, with narcotics and injections taking the back seat,” says Dr. Bang. “There are very few side effects to chiropractic treatment. Medications, on the flip side, aren’t free of side effects, especially after prolonged use.”
Keep sciatic pain away with strengthening and stretching exercises
Dr. Bang says most chiropractors focus on as few treatments as possible to bring relief to patients. Sciatica-like pain can usually be relieved within four visits or less. During treatment sessions, chiropractors teach basic exercises that you can do at home to stop the symptoms from returning.
“I usually recommend increased exercise or a sitting/standing desk,” says Dr. Bang. “Also, I love a foam roller for sciatic pain. It’s a miracle worker. It’s inexpensive and lasts forever — unless the dog gets hold of it.”