Health advice

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Black and white photo of resting legs

Some of the most distressed people who come into the chiropractic clinic are those suffering from sciatica. This level of distress is a perfectly normal reaction to an unrelentingly painful condition. If you would like to understand sciatica better and find out how chiropractic can help, read on.

First of all, rest assured that people do recover from sciatica. However, it doesn't have one straightforward cause. You may be feeling the pain in your buttocks or legs, but that isn't where the problem originates. You’re suffering from what we call ‘referred pain’ - a pain in one place caused by a problem somewhere else. Sciatic pain is generally caused by a problem in the structures of the back, which is why it makes sense to consult a back specialist such as a chiropractor or an osteopath for treatment.

Sciatic pain in surprising places

I once treated a man for back pain, who mentioned as an aside that he had pain in his testicles. It turned out that he had a variation of sciatic pain which goes round to the front of the groin, and is perceived as pain in the genitals. When I mobilised his spine, the pain in his testicles cleared up.

Have you got ‘true sciatica’?

The pain of ‘true sciatica’ follows a very specific pattern down the leg. If during diagnosis I see this pattern, (called a dermatomal pattern), I know that the patient has true sciatica which is caused by damage to a lumbar spinal nerve. 

However, the term sciatica tends to be used (even by medics) as a catch all name for any pain in the buttocks or legs which has its origin in the structures of the back. This might be nerve damage, but it might be due a problem elsewhere, for example:

• A problem with the joints of the pelvis

• The muscles of the buttocks 

• The joints of the lower back. 

• A disc bulge

• A space occupying legion such as a tumour

How I treat sciatic pain.

When a sciatica sufferer books in at Hexham Family Chiropractic, the first thing I do is to educate them on which movements will aggravate their pain, so that they can avoid them. To find out for yourself what these movements are, click here.

Starting in the first appointment, I use neurological testing to work out how the patient’s function and movement is limited and where exactly their pain is, and I work around that. Some people imagine chiropractic to be a heavy handed therapy, but in actual fact I take great care to work out what the patient can tolerate, and to work within those limitations. So at first I might use low force techniques such as acupuncture, gentle mobilisations and muscle release. Then as their pain levels decrease I can introduce new techniques and give them exercises and stretches they can do to help themselves.

An alternative to surgery.

Chiropractic therapy isn't available on the NHS. What this means is that here in the UK, patients who are debilitated by sciatic pain will sometimes find themselves considering surgery before they consider trying a non- invasive therapy such as chiropractic. Among a population unaccustomed to paying for health care, this seems sensible. It isn't sensible. Chiropractic is considered a conservative therapy, and conservative approaches should always be considered before resorting to surgery.

Click here to read about a 2014 study regarding chiropractic and sciatica. If you’d like to make an appointment at Hexham Family Chiropractic, our phone number is at the top of the page. If you don’t live in the Tynedale area, you might appreciate the tips on this page, which will help you to choose a good chiropractor near you.