Tiger Woods swears by it. So do Barry Bonds and Joe Montana. But does chiropractic care really help sciatica, or is it “all in their heads”? As it turns out, there are medically sound reasons why the kind of treatments chiropractors offer may provide substantial relief from the back and leg pain or numbness that is a hallmark of sciatica.
To decide whether chiropractic care is right for your back pain, it’s important to understand sciatica itself. The basic cause of the pain is pressure on the sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve starts in your lower back, and spreads on either side to your hips, buttocks and legs. Most typically, people with sciatica experience the resulting pain in numbness either in their back, or on one side of the lower body.
A number of instigating factors can lead to the dreaded “pinched nerve.” A bone spur or herniated skeletal disc are common culprits. Inflamed muscles after injury can also put pressure on the sciatic nerve, however. Other primary causes of sciatic pressure include tumors, pregnancy and even constipation.
How Chiropractic Care Helps
One factor thought to increase back pain is the “locking up” of the spinal area once that initial pressure is introduced. When mobility is reduced by pain, the pain and pressure increases — the classic vicious cycle. Chiropractic adjustments that help to increase mobility in the area, therefore, can lead to reduced pain, which in turn enables a greater range of motion.
Most of us think of spinal manipulation only when it comes to chiropractic care — and that is, in fact, often a key part of the pinched nerve treatment. Precise adjustments made by qualified professionals work to align vertebrae, while providing a greater range of motion. These precisely applied adjustments also adjust the nerve itself, making the pressure on it is less severe.
Along with these adjustments, your chiropractor may utilize ultrasound therapy, which employs sound waves to deliver penetrating heat. This targeted heat application relaxes tissues and reduces the kind of inflammation that leads to spasm and pain. Another common technique, the TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) delivers a targeted electric current in order to reduce aches and ease muscle spasms. Expert application of ice therapy is also helpful for reducing inflammation.
Professional athletes not only have more severe sports injuries than most of us, but their actual livelihood is at stake if they can’t address problems like sciatica effectively.
Champion weightlifter, Melanie Roach, attributes her recovery from severe disc herniation in part to such chiropractic treatment as targeted massage following a micro-surgery to address the problem. “My back is stronger than it has ever been and within seven months, I was 100% and beyond what I was,” the celebrated athlete noted.
NFL legend, Jerry Rice, had a similar experience when he first began seeing his chiropractor with severe back pain following an injury during practice. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t walk — so I went to see [my chiropractor],” Rice recounted. “We got everything lined back up, and the next day I went right back out to practice!”
Keep in Mind
Like other therapies, chiropractic care is not a cure-all. Depending on the cause and location of your pinched nerves, other treatments might be more effective. According to the Mayo Clinic, the spinal manipulation element of chiropractic care seems to be better suited for non-radiating sciatic pain.
But the famed medical institution also concluded that it can be effective in many cases, and judged it to be a safe, non-invasive treatment option.