Top 3 Causes of Sciatica


Top 3 Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica is a condition that affects millions of people nationwide.  The pain caused by sciatica can be devastating, and living with sciatica can make one’s life miserable.  Dealing with the pain of sciatica negatively affects every aspect of a sufferer’s life: someone suffering from sciatica can struggle just to get through the actions required over the course of their day.  Even mild exercise can be intensely painful, as can sitting in a chair, making work impossible.  The minor physical movement needed to get around—getting in and out of a car, walking down the street, going to the supermarket—becomes agony, which puts a strain on sufferer’s loved ones who now need to take care of them.

Men are more likely to be affected by sciatica than women, and as people reach the age of 40, the likelihood that they will eventually suffer from sciatica increases greatly.  If you’re one of the 35 % of people who suffer from sciatica at some point, you know just how miserable it can make your life.

But just what is sciatica, anyway, and why is it so hard to treat?  Basically, sciatica is a condition where pain shoots down the leg from the lower back, typically only on one side of the body.  Sciatica refers to a condition that is associated with the sciatic nerve.  The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back down to your buttock (L4-S3) and is considered the longest and widest nerve in the human body.  When it is compressed or impinged upon, it can cause a condition known as sciatica.  And as it turns out, sciatica is not actually a disease or a disorder, but a symptom that can appear as a result of one of several different causes.

Most traditional medical practitioners treat sciatica with the same thing no matter the cause: pain medication.  And yes, spending six weeks of time and money on painkillers is an option, but it doesn’t do anything to address the actual disease causing sciatica, meaning it could come back again at any time.

Fortunately, while sciatica can be long-lasting and extremely painful, chiropractors have a variety of methods that can be used to relieve the symptoms of sciatica while treating the underlying cause at the same time.  The treatment varies with the cause, so let’s look at some of those causes in a little more detail and see how they’re best treated.

  1. Disc Herniation / Spinal Stenosis

The most common cause of sciatica, disc herniation is also referred to as a “slipped disc.”  This is when a disc between vertebrae bulges out of alignment, causing pain throughout the body and especially in the back.  Spinal stenosis, on the other hand, is a narrowing of the spinal canal (the area where the spinal cord sits), which puts intense pressure on the nerves in the spine. Spinal stenosis can be congenital and over time worsen with physical trauma and the activities of daily life.

The preferred method for treating these conditions is called spinal decompression.  This decompression can be accomplished in multiple ways by a well-equipped chiropractor or health professional: it can be performed manually or with a computerized spinal decompression machine. Decompression involves putting traction force on the discs in the vertebrae affected by herniation or spinal stenosis, effectively pulling the affected area back into alignment and removing pressure from the nerve.  Computerized spinal decompression has a very high rate of success among patients who suffer from disc herniation or spinal stenosis, and are a safer alternative to surgery.

  1. Facet Impingement, Spinal Subluxation, and Degenerative Joint Disease

This is a wide array of very common problems, but they all result in sciatica, and they are all treated in relatively similar ways.  For facet impingement or encroachment, spinal adjustments or spinal manipulative therapy can treat these problems by removing nerve irritation and interference.  When the subluxations or misalignments continue to progress, the joints begin to eventually degenerate, this process that continues on and on which later spreads to other joints of the body is known as” degenerative joint disease “(DJD). DJD is also referred to as osteoarthritis or simply “old age arthritis”.  It is purported that the cause of DJD is unknown by the medical community, they tend to soft ball it and just blame it on old age.  Although age is only one of the factors, this neglected approach, practically leaves millions of patients without hope and proper treatment for the person who is trying to obtain lasting relief from this insidious condition.

A good example for this degenerative process is analogous to driving a car without having the proper alignment and balancing of the tires: when you don’t perform this routine maintenance, what happens to the longevity of the tread?  Will it give the 3-year or 5-year warranty that the manufacturer guarantees? No!

At best, the patient is left with a basket of medications, cortisone injections or surgery. Modern research is showing the significant role that biomechanics play on the integrity of the joints.

Fortunately, as stated above, chiropractic or spinal adjustments, either manual or using a machine, can also help sciatica caused by degenerative joint disease, since it is usually a result of chronic misalignments (L4-S3) and inflammation of the joints.  In essence, adjustments involve adjusting the position of a misaligned vertebra or joint in order to restore biomechanical stability and relieve pain caused by that misalignment.

  1. Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome refers to pain caused when the piriformis muscle, which reaches from the bottom of the spine (sacrum) through the hip, compresses or irritates the nearby sciatic nerve, resulting in sciatica.  The origins of the piriformis muscle can slightly differ from people to people based on genetics, it is estimated that about 15% of the population are more prone to sciatica because of the proximity of the piriformis muscle in relation to the sciatic nerve, which can attribute to compressing the sciatic nerve involved with sciatica.


Subluxations or spinal misalignments of the lumbar and sacroiliac (SI) joints, which are at the bottom area of the spine, can irritate nerves that innervate the piriformis muscle which can cause contraction of that muscle. Chiropractic adjustments can help with that. Moreover, if the piriformis muscle is contracted due to strain, injury or adhesions of just the localized muscle, then massage or trigger point therapy can be very effective in alleviating sciatica by addressing its original cause- the contracted piriformis muscle.

Trigger points are spots in the connective tissue around muscles that are extremely susceptible to irritation, massage therapists and chiropractors or other qualified health professionals can alleviate this irritation with deep massage or vibration around these areas.  Alternatively, the pain of piriformis-induced sciatica can also be relieved by stretching the core muscles, which primarily include the pirofirmis muscle, psoas muscle, gluteal, rectus abdominus and erector spinae muscles.

Article Summary: Effective treatment for sciatica depends on the cause of this condition.  For sciatica caused by disc herniation, the most effective remedy is spinal decompression.  Facet impingement, spinal subluxation, and degenerative joint disease all can lead to sciatica as well, and in these cases sciatica can best be treated with spinal manipulation.  Finally, the pain of sciatica resulting from piriformis syndrome can be relieved by trigger point therapy, massage, and myofascial release.



About the author:


Dr. Tony Salamay is a practicing chiropractor in Panama City, FL, who has dedicated his studies and focus in the field of functional neurology and clinical nutrition to treat complex chronic conditions. Some of the most common conditions that he sees in his clinic are: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, spinal injuries, diabetes, headaches, IBS, autoimmune disorders and many others.

He is the author of the soon to be released book” How to End Your Chronic Pain and Start Living Again!” – a non-drug treatment for chronic pain and metabolic disorders.


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Dr.Tony Salamay