“My doctor told me I had sciatica,” Elaine recalled. “But the muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories didn’t help my leg pain feel better.” Most people with thigh pain are told they have sciatica. But, when I hear a story like this, the first thing I ask the person is where they actually feel their pain. Often they really don’t have true sciatica. So “what is sciatica”? What causes it, what else can give you leg pain or thigh pain. And if it is sciatica, how can it be treated?
What Sciatica is and is not
First of all Sciatica is not a diagnosis. The word sciatica simply describes where a person has pain. (In the area of the sciatic nerve.) A true sciatica pain pattern is pain felt in the buttock, back of the thigh, back or side of the calf, to the foot. The pain can be in any one of these locations. It can even be in the buttock, skip the back of the thigh and then be in the back of the calf. Or it can just be in the calf. There may or may not be back pain with sciatica.
What else could thigh/leg pain be? Muscle trigger points can refer pain to the thigh or leg. Painful sacroiliac joints where your hips hook onto your spine and some of your lower back joints can refer pain into the thigh or leg.
What causes sciatica
What causes sciatica? Irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve arises from nerve roots starting below the 4th lumbar vertebra. These roots then combine to form the very large and long sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs the hamstring muscles, and the calf muscles and muscles that flex your toes and muscles on the bottom of your foot. It also supplies sensation to these areas.
What can irritate the sciatic nerve? It could be a man sitting on his wallet. Or, the spasm of a muscle called the piriformis deep in your buttock. Or a bulging disc or a disease like diabetes.
When we have a patient with sciatica symptoms, our first job is to figure out what is causing the symptoms. Our exam includes a series of physical, orthopedic and neurological tests to determine the cause.
We have found several reasons that give people sciatic pain symptoms:
- piriformis compression of the sciatic nerve or
- a disc problem;
- lack of proper movement in one of the lower spinal joints; or
- irritation of the sacroiliac joints from being pregnant. (There are big changes in posture that come with advanced pregnancy, and these can strain joints in the lower back and cause them not to move properly. This can then hurt in a way that gives sciatica symptoms.)
Our treatments for this condition depend on the cause and may include gentle adjusting of the joints to free them. We may also use ultrasound and other therapies to relax muscles. And we may offer nutrients to speed healing and reduce inflammation. We also offer exercises to speed healing. For pregnant moms-to-be we use gentle alignments and massage work to ease the discomforts for a more comfortable pregnancy.
For muscle trigger points or painful sacroiliac joints and lower back joints causing leg pains, we free up or align the problem joints and use gentle therapies to relieve the cause of pain.
Are you in pain? Call us.
If you have sciatica, or think that you might, or if you have lower back, buttock, thigh or leg pains of any type and would like to know what can be done about it, simply give us a call to schedule an exam at 978-535-6155. Why suffer when you can be helped with drug free conservative care to restore your health?