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What We Know About Chiropractic Care in Treating Sciatica

Published May 23, 2017    

Your back has been bothering you for a while now. The pain may have started in your low back region and has now spread down to your legs. Your pain is severe and sharp. You experience numbness, burning or tingling sensations all day. 

What you may not understand is that it is a symptom of a chronic back condition – an indication that something is not right. You clearly know that something is wrong because your pain has only gotten worse. A common misconception is that sciatica is a disorder, however, sciatica is really a symptom of a disorder.

Pain is described as dull, achy, sharp, toothache-like, pins and needles or similar to electric shocks. Other symptoms associated with sciatica include burning, numbness, and tingling sensations. Sciatica is also called radiating or referred pain, neuropathy or neuralgia.

The main trigger for a sciatic diagnosis normally stems from misalignment of the vertebra in your spine. The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and extends into the lower leg, which is why the pain isn't just felt on your back, but anywhere along the nerve line.

So after finally visiting your doctor, you're diagnosed with sciatica. Now what?

The Joint Corporation — originally founded in 1999 by a chiropractor who wanted to make chiropractic care understandable, convenient, friendly and affordable — is a nationwide network of more than 370 clinics and counting with its headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In an online article, How Chiropractic May Help Treat Sciatica, The company wrote, “A chiropractor often treats people with sciatica. Their adjustments will aim to realign the spine, taking the pressure off of the nerve and often bringing quick relief.

“Once the pressure is off, the body can begin to heal itself. While adjustments are probably most often used, other treatments may be given, particularly if an adjustment may not be advisable.”

Proper Diagnosis is Essential

Because there are so many disorders that cause sciatica, a chiropractor's first step is to determine what is causing your sciatica.

Forming a diagnosis involves a diligent review of your medical history and a physical and neurological examination.

Diagnostic testing includes an X-ray, MRI, CT scan and/or electrodiagnostic tests. Electrodiagnostic (EDX) studies (sometimes called EMG for electromyography) are a commonly used technique to test the function of muscles and nerves. These studies are ordered by physicians to help determine the cause of back or neck pain, numbness/tingling, and strength loss.

These examinations and tests help to detect possible contraindications to spinal adjustments and other chiropractic therapies

Chiropractic Treatment of Sciatic Symptoms

The purpose of chiropractic treatment is to help the body's potential to heal itself. It is based on the scientific principle that restricted spinal movement leads to pain, reduced function, and your overall performance.

Chiropractic care is non-invasive (non-surgical) and drug-free, meaning you cannot become addicted.

The type of chiropractic therapy provided depends on the cause of your sciatica.

A sciatica treatment plan may include several different treatments such as ice/cold therapies, ultrasound, TENS, and spinal adjustments (sometimes called spinal manipulation).

 Below are more details on these chiropractic treatment modalities:

  • Ice/cold therapy — Reduces inflammation and helps to control sciatic pain
  • Ultrasounds — A gentle heat created by sound waves that penetrate deep into tissues that increase circulation and helps to reduce muscle spasms, cramping, swelling, stiffness, as well as overall pain.
  • TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) — A small box-like, battery-powered, portable muscle stimulating machine. Variable intensities of electrical current control acute pain and reduce muscle spasms. Larger versions of the home-use TENS units are used by chiropractors, physical therapists, and other rehab professionals.
  • Adjustments (Spinal Manipulation) — At the core of chiropractic care are spinal adjustments. Manipulation frees restricted movement of the spine and helps to restore misaligned vertebral bodies to their proper position in the spinal column. Spinal adjustment helps to reduce nerve irritability responsible for causing inflammation, muscle spasm, pain and other symptoms related to sciatica. Adjustments should not be painful. Spinal manipulation is proven to be safe and effective.

During chiropractic training, students learn various adjustment techniques enabling them to treat several types of subluxations and disorders.

Techniques vary from a swift high-velocity thrust to those that combine minimal force and gentle pressure. Mastery of each technique is an art that requires great skill and precision. 

Spinal manipulation is the treatment that differentiates chiropractic care from other medical disciplines.

The Joint Corporation concluded, “In some people, sciatica may correct itself, possibly occurring only once or a couple of times. A chiropractor can help bring relief, but several treatments, or adjustments, will likely be needed, particularly if it has been occurring for some time.

“Letting a chiropractor treat sciatic pain gives you a no surgery and no drugs option. Exercises will most likely be recommended to strengthen the muscles in the back to help prevent sciatica from recurring, but healing is apt to take some time.”

Sciatica can be caused by other disorders beyond the scope of chiropractic practice. If your doctor of chiropractic determines that your disorder requires treatment by another type of doctor, then you would be referred to another specialty. In some cases, the referring chiropractor may continue to treat you and co-manage the patient's care with the other specialists.

Last change: January 29, 2019