Pain down one or both legs, often referred to as sciatica, can range from a dull annoyance to an extreme, incapacitating pain. The sciatic nerve is actually a large bundle of many smaller nerves that originate from the spine in your lower back. So, even if you have only pain in the calf, treatment must be rendered to the spine. Generally, the further down the leg the symptoms travel, the worse the problem is. Instead of pain, the symptoms can manifest as numbness or tingling, and as the nerves become more and more pinched, you can begin to lose strength in the lower leg and foot. If left untreated, the damage to the nerves of the sciatic can be permanent.
The smaller nerves that form the sciatic nerve, unfortunately, exit your spine directly behind the spinal discs. These discs, if injured, can bulge, herniate or rupture, applying pressure to the smaller nerves and sending pain signals down the leg. The discs can be injured by a car accident, bending to lift something, or through cumulative damage from years of bad posture, poor muscle tone, excess weight, etc. Generally, sitting, bending, coughing, or sneezing aggravates the symptoms. There is often increased pain when first getting out of bed in the mornings as well.
As we age, we often develop degeneration of the discs and joints of the spine as well. This can lead to a narrowing of the holes the nerves exit, as well as the creation of bone spurs that can cause impingement. People with disc degeneration can remain pain free, but they have to be conscious of the situation in their spine, and understand there is less wiggle room for their nerves.
Tight muscles around the lower back and hips are also a common source of sciatic pain. Injuries, lack of flexibility, poor posture, exercise, prolonged periods of being seated, and pregnancies can all lead to tight muscles and sciatic pain.
A thorough exam should be done to pinpoint the cause of pain, and rule out the possibility of a vascular problem or other musculoskeletal conditions such as plantar fasciitis. Prescription and over the counter medications can reduce swelling and mask pain, but improving the mechanics and motion within the spine, and strengthening its supporting muscles will give you the best long term results. In this clinic I utilize a combination of chiropractic adjustments, McKenzie MDT physical therapy technique, as well as core strengthening to treat sciatic symptoms. I also implement ice, heat, traction, electric stimulation, massage, and stretching when appropriate.