What is Sciatic pain?

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve gets compressed, irritated or pinched. Causing pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve from the lower lumbar spine region to the buttock and down the back of the thigh and calf. The pain can vary widely from mild aching to sharp, electrical shock or severe burning pain. Patients may also experience muscle weakness, tingling, numbness, or pins and needles in the leg, foot or toes. Sciatica typically involves only one side of the body, although both sides may be affected depending on the location of the nerve being disturbed.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is most commonly initiated by a herniated or prolapsed disk which then compresses the nerve root sending pain down the leg.

Degenerative disk disease can lead to spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal. This can leave little room for the nerves and spinal cord to move freely as needed without getting compressed. Even the slightest compression can cause sciatic nerve pain.

Osteoarthritis can lead to bone spurs, as the cartilage wears down over time limiting that protective cushion.

Occupation, if your job requires a lot of twisting, carrying heavy loads or sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Trauma such as auto accidents.

Piriformis syndrome, occurs when the piriformis muscle located deep in the buttocks becomes tight and spasms putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Cauda Equina Syndrome which is rare, however this condition affects the nerve bundle at the base of the spinal cord. Symptoms of this condition include pain and numbness down the leg, along with loss of bowel and bladder control.

If left untreated for an extended period of time, sciatica may lead to something called “drop foot.” Drop foot develops when a patient experiences a seriously injured nerve, resulting in chronic muscle weakness making the foot numb and unable to lift properly when walking. Potential permanent nerve damage may result in the loss of feeling in the affected leg and foot. 


In the acute phase, the goal is to reduce pain and inflammation. This can be accomplished by decompressing the nerve root allowing for more space surrounding the nerve.  To properly do this a good history and examination must occur to find the cause of the sciatica. Treatment for sciatica varies depending on the cause of the compressed nerve.

Patients may use short-term NSAIDs during this phase, which is appropriate. However, it’s important to note that NSAIDs can actually slow down the healing process and should be taken in moderation. As an alternative or in addition to, we at Alta Mountain chiropractic recommend natural therapies that induce the body’s natural healing response such as supplements, Prolozone and Homeopathic injections, to help support and speed up the healing process.

Reducing activities for a few days may be warranted, but should not be reduced long-term.

Once the pain and inflammation have been addressed the patient may then be given some simple stretches and exercises to do at home in between chiropractic appointments. These exercises are meant to increase range of motion, stretch sore and tight muscles and strengthen the area. The exercises should be performed without pain, although some degree of soreness is to be expected after exercise.

If the pain was initiated by trauma, applying ice or cold packs within the first 48 hours is acceptable for severe pain only. Subsequently applying heat for 15 minutes once per hour is helpful in the healing process as well as in the reduction of inflammation and muscle spasms.

Massage therapy aids in decreasing pain, restoring range of motion and helps increase flexibility.

Staying active such as walking, swimming or biking as tolerated is recommended.

Imaging such as X-rays or MRI may or may not be needed depending on the case and presentation of the patient. Dr. Nathan Eldredge will do a thorough exam and determine at your first visit if image is needed to treat your condition.

If you are suffering for sciatica then please give us a call at 801-523-2582 so that we can start helping you with this serious condition right away.

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