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Sciatica can be a symptom of a bigger problem
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SPINE CARE

Sciatica can be a symptom of a bigger problem

Sciatica can be a symptom of a bigger problem

The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back all the way down to the toes says Alan Walker, Doctor of Chiropractic at the Healing Arts Center in Valparaiso, noting that sciatica pain refers to the pain—which can vary in intensity—experienced in any of the areas where the nerve runs.

“Generally the sides and the front are not impacted,” he says, “though there is a little overlap between the sciatic nerve and the femoral and obturator nerves.”

An injury, pressure or weakness in one of the organs can cause sciatica. According to the St. Franciscan Alliance Website, other causes are slipped disks, Piriformis syndrome which is a pain disorder involving the narrow muscle in the buttocks, tumors and spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings where spinal nerves leave the spinal column.

Diagnosis can include completing a medical history, x-rays, MRIs, blood tests and physical exams.

“As a medical condition, sciatica doesn’t exist,” says Dr. Gregory McComis, an orthopedic surgeon at North Point Orthopedics with two decades of experience in the treatment of acute trauma, spine care, sports injuries, disturbances of the musculoskeletal system and general orthopedic care. “That’s a misnomer which was used in the 1800s and early 1900s. The correct term is lumbar radiculopathy.”

But no matter what we call it, continues McComis, it can be a very painful condition.

An injury, pressure or weakness in one of the organs can cause sciatica.

“Aging is another factor,” says McComis. “I often tell my patients as we grow older, we get wrinkles, we get gray hair and we have problems with our spine such as spinal stenosis.”

The latter is a degeneration of the vertebrae, discs, muscles and connective tissues that make up the spinal column. Sciatica pain can vary widely from mild to so severe that standing and walking is difficult.

Diagnosis can include completing a medical history, x-rays, MRIs, blood tests and physical exams.

“We look at organic functions when treating sciatica,” says Walker. “As an example, just this last week, because it’s allergy season, I’ve had several patients coming in who said they were experiencing sciatic pain. All of them were taking allergy medicines such as Zyrtec which is hard of the kidneys. Whenever organs are stressed then it impacts the sciatic nerve.”

Treatment options include physical therapy, steroid injections, over the counter pain medication and lumber epidermal injections, says McComis. Surgical treatment is much rarer.

“Only 5% of the patients I see will I do surgery,” he says.

Walker usually recommends patients treat allergies and sciatica with herbal, homeopathic and nutritional supplements, though he notes that as long a patient continues taking allergy medicines, their kidneys will be stressed. Other treatments can include manual chiropractic manipulations or hand held electronic devices that aid in manipulations depending upon what is most comfortable for the patient.

“If someone has pain on the right side of their body, we look at the kidney and liver because that’s where they’re located,” he says. “On the left hand side of the body, we look at the spleen, pancreas and other organs that might be weak.”

“A good diet is foundational,” says Walker. “If you’re eating fake food, you’re going to have fake health.”

So is a firm mattress that supports the back, says McComis.

“There are about a half dozen stretches that are helpful depending on which muscles are the weakest,” he says. “We find with lower extremity issues that working on the hip flexors and abductors are good since stretching is good because these muscles tighten because of the way we live—sitting for long periods at a desk or in a car or in front of the TV.”

Walker says he recommends walking as a good exercise to build core strength.

“There are about a half dozen stretches that are helpful depending on which muscles are the weakest,” he says. “We find with lower extremity issues that working on the hip flexors and abductors are good since stretching is good because these muscles tighten because of the way we live—sitting for long periods at a desk or in a car or in front of the TV.”

Stretches to help eliminate tightness in the abductor muscles, whose main function is to move the legs outward to the side, include the lying down windmill and standing hip circles. Hip flexors, which help us bend at the waist, life our knees and help us walk, can be strengthen with relatively easy exercises such as lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, each foot spaced to the width of your hip. Then, contract the abdominal muscles to flatter the back to the floor, exhale and lift hips off of the floor. Take a deep breath and then lower your hips back to the floor.

“You don’t want to overdo any exercise,” says Walker, noting it’s always important to talk to a medical specialist before starting an exercise regime.

“Certain things lead to arthritic conditions that can impact the spine,” says McComis. “Smoking, being overweight and occupations that require heavy lifting. Preventative measures such as losing weight and quitting smoking are important. And so is exercise. Studies have shown that walking even 20 minutes every day helps.”

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