Chiropractic Care for Sciatica: What Does the Science Say?

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The Science on Chiropractic for Sciatica

If you have sciatica, you know that sciatic nerve pain is no joke.

And your boss isn’t laughing, either. In the US, around 149 million work days are lost each year due to low back pain. A large amount of these cases are attributed to sciatica pain.

Sciatica is not a medical condition in and of itself. Rather, the term refers to pain along the sciatic nerve (the longest nerve in the human body) and other symptoms like numbness or tingling. Leg pain, neck pain, and numbness associated with sciatica can be outright unbearable. 

Most people are able to differentiate sciatic nerve pain from traditional lower back, buttock, or leg pain by the shooting sensation. This distinct feeling comes from neurons firing in response to the pinched nerve. The result is inflammation, discomfort, and moderate to severe pain.

Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated disc, also known as a bulging or ruptured disc. Anything that puts pressure on the root of the sciatic nerve can trigger sciatica symptoms. 

Causes of sciatica include:

  • Herniated (bulging/ruptured) disc
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Lumbar spine stenosis
  • Pregnancy 
  • Spinal tumor

Sciatica Treatments

There’s some good news if you’re suffering from sciatica. Symptoms will usually resolve within a few weeks with proper treatment. Treatment options for sciatica vary from at-home remedies like stretching and hot-cold therapies to invasive surgeries for more severe cases. While many patients use pain relievers and muscle relaxants to manage symptoms, this can be dangerous. These solutions simply mask the problem, potentially causing a worsening of symptoms. The best course of treatment typically involves physical therapy and/or spinal manipulative therapy.

If you think you have sciatica, the first step is to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. While paying a visit to your primary care physician won’t hurt, you’ll need a referral to receive any specialized treatment. This adds an additional step that takes up more time, energy, and of course, cash.

That’s why many people with sciatica are turning first to chiropractors to begin their sciatica treatment. 

Doctors of chiropractic are an excellent initial point of contact for sciatica within the healthcare system. You don’t need a referral to see one, and you’re immediately interfacing with a spine specialist. It’s also an attractive option for those looking to avoid drugs or invasive surgery. If you decide to go this route, be sure to work with an evidence-based, corrective chiropractor.

In this article, we’ll examine how the right chiropractor can help treat sciatica and what the science says about chiropractic solutions for sciatica.

Chiropractor consulting with patient

Chiropractic Care for Sciatica

Let’s walk through the process of chiropractic care for sciatica and what to expect.

Step 1: Diagnosis

Many make the mistake of sciatica self diagnosis. And while sciatica symptoms often resolve quickly, it’s important to uncover the underlying cause to initiate proper treatment. 

When you pay a visit to the chiropractor, explain all your symptoms and level of pain in detail. Certain people are more at risk for sciatica than others, including pregnant women, overweight individuals, and those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting at a computer all day also puts you at higher risk of developing sciatica. 

Be sure to explain your lifestyle and activity level. The chiropractor will then conduct an exam and usually be able to pinpoint the cause of your sciatica.

Step 2: Treatment

As we mentioned earlier, the #1 cause of sciatica is a herniated disc. If your chiropractor determines there may be an underlying cause (like a tumor) that’s triggering your sciatic pain, he or she may refer you to a digital imaging facility. Some chiropractic facilities, like ours, offer in-house imaging.

But for the majority of sciatic pain sufferers, an experienced corrective chiropractor can provide significant relief. He or she will develop a comprehensive treatment plan to get you back on the road to wellness.

Chiropractic Treatments for Sciatica

Chiropractic care for sciatica is highly individualized. Many see improvements after just a couple visits, while others may need to come in for months to receive total relief.

Chiropractic treatments for sciatica include:

  • Adjustments (also called spinal manipulation)
  • Corrective exercises
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Recommendation for further treatment like acupuncture or physical therapy

Spinal adjustments are what chiropractors are known for, and this is their most frequent treatment recommendation for sciatica. Because spinal manipulations mechanically alleviate the root cause of sciatica (a slipped disc), they are highly effective at relieving sciatic nerve pain. When supplemented with light corrective exercise approach and other complementary treatments, they can help not only relieve pain but correct the underlying issue.

Are spinal adjustments painful?

No! They should at most cause mild discomfort as your body adjusts. Spinal manipulations or adjustments performed by a licensed and adept chiropractor are pain-free experiences. These treatments help to realign the spinal column and restore range of motion for patients. Spinal adjustments alleviate the pressure on the sciatic nerve that cause pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, and numbness. They are safe, effective methods to address the root cause of sciatic nerve pain. 

Science on Chiropractic for Sciatica

Chiropractors conducting sciatica studies

Chiropractic care for sciatica is no longer considered an alternative treatment. Doctors often recommend it as a drug-free pain management solution for cases which do not require surgery.

The results speak for themselves. Chiropractic adjustments have entered the mainstream as an effective treatment for sciatic nerve pain. If you’re suffering from sciatica, odds are, other areas of wellness are suffering too. Getting sciatica treatment from a chiropractor can get you back on the path to health.

For the skeptic, a large body of proof is out there. The bulk cites the effects of chiropractic adjustments on generalized back pain — like this study on active-duty military personnel referenced by the editor of Harvard Health. But the science on chiropractic care for sciatica, specifically, is promising.

Various studies on chiropractic care for sciatica demonstrate that chiropractic intervention has a substantially positive effect on patient outcomes. Check out a couple with intriguing results:

Study 1

Chiropractic manipulation in the treatment of acute back pain and sciatica with disc protrusion: a randomized double-blind clinical trial of active and simulated spinal manipulations.

In one of the more recent and famous studies on chiropractic care for sciatica, a double-blind experiment was conducted on 64 men and 38 women with moderate-to-intense sciatic pain. This study was so influential, we actually included it in our last blog post, too.

One group received actual spinal adjustments, while the control group received simulated adjustments. At the end of the period, those who received chiropractic care had fewer days with pain and fewer days with moderate-to-severe pain. Others became totally pain free. When it comes to acute low back pain, chiropractic researchers concluded that chiropractic care for sciatica provides a proven advantage.

Study 2

Spinal manipulation and home exercise with advice for subacute and chronic back-related leg pain: a trial with adaptive allocation. Participants who received chiropractic treatment for sciatica along with home exercise showed a significantly higher level of improvement than those who did home exercise alone. The study took place over a 12 week period. At-home solutions can help, but sciatica home remedies will only go so far. This study proves that chiropractic care provides a significant edge. For those willing to put the energy into at-home treatment, pairing these with chiropractic can produce compounding positive results.

For more, see our previous post on case studies on chiropractic care for sciatica!

Takeaways

Chiropractic care is becoming one of the leading treatment solutions for people suffering from sciatica in America. The top reasons for seeing a chiropractic professional for your sciatica include:

  • It’s a drug-free solution
  • No referral required
  • Non-invasive
  • Cost efficient
  • Effective pain reduction
  • Often covered by insurance
  • Backed by scientific studies

As more people seek out chiropractic care for sciatica, we expect increased studies into the nuances of sciatic nerve pain and how a chiropractor can help sciatica symptoms.

If you’re in the Austin or Bee Caves area, learn more about our chiropractic treatment for sciatica.

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