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Can Leg or Back Pain Actually Be Sciatica?

If you’ve been experiencing consistent leg or back pain (or perhaps you’d describe it as a burning or tingling sensation), sciatica might be the culprit.

Sciatica is a term that describes the symptoms of leg pain that starts in the lower back, moves through the buttocks and into the large sciatic nerve in the back of each leg.

Sciatica also often includes:

  • Consistent pain in one side of the buttock or leg that worsens when you sit down.
  • Weakness or numbness that makes it difficult to move your leg, foot, or toes.
  • Sharp pain that makes it difficult to walk or stand.
  • Pain that travels down just one leg and into the foot and toes.

Two very common types of pain that trace back to sciatica are piriformis syndrome and a herniated disc/bulging disc.

Piriformis Syndrome

The piriformis muscle connects the lower spine to the thigh and makes hip rotation possible. Piriformis syndrome develops when muscle spasms crop up in the piriformis muscle and compress the sciatic nerve that’s located underneath.

If you are experiencing pain in the hip, the center of the buttocks, or down the back of the leg, you may be suffering from piriformis syndrome.

A Herniated Disc/Bulging Disc

With a bulging disc, the gel-like center protrudes but stays within the outer wall of the disc. A herniated disc, on the other hand, occurs when the gel-like center breaks through the disc.

Whether a disc is bulging or herniating, disc material presses against a nearby nerve root, pushing down on nerve tissue and causing sciatica. In either case, nerve compression and irritation results in both inflammation and pain, causing numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.

This pain can occur anywhere on the spine but usually affects the lower back.


Think you might have sciatica? Here’s what to do next.

Home Care Treatment

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles in the back of the thigh that help bend the knee and extend the hip; stretching your hamstrings may help ease your lower back pain. Unfortunately most of our daily activities don’t involve the hamstrings, so stretching exercises keeps them healthy.

Secrets behind powerful hamstring stretches:

  • When you can, warm up before stretching with a 10-minute walk will help get your blood pumping.
  • Ease into the stretch gently and hold it for about 10 seconds, twice per day. Over time, you can increase to 30 seconds or more each time.
  • Remember to breathe!


Hamstring Stretches While Lying on Your Back

If you’re experiencing low back pain or leg pain, you might benefit from hamstring stretching exercises done while lying on the back, which is least stressful on the rest of your body.

Use A Towel:

  • Lie on your back, supporting your thigh with your hand or with a towel wrapped around it.
  • Slowly straighten your knee until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh. The ultimate goal is for the bottom of your foot to face the ceiling.
  • Hold the position initially for 10 seconds, and gradually work up to 20 to 30 seconds, stretching one leg at a time.

Use A Wall:

  • Lie back on the floor with your buttocks against a wall at a corner or by a door jamb.
  • Keeping one leg on the floor, place your foot off your alternate leg against the wall and try to gently push your knee straight so the raised leg and the leg on the floor make a 90-degree angle.
  • Hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds.


Hamstring Stretches While Sitting

Hamstring stretches from a seated position can be varied based on the placement of your leg.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

  • Sitting at the edge of a chair, straighten one leg in front of you, with your heel on the floor.
  • Sit up straight and push your navel towards your thigh, but don’t lean the rest of your body forward.
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times for each leg.

Give each exercise a try and decide which one feels best for you.


Chiropractic Treatment

If you’re not experiencing pain relief from the home care exercises, or if your symptoms are prolonged or recurring, it may be time to schedule a full chiropractic exam. A chiropractor will identify the cause of your pain, provide immediate relief, and develop a treatment plan that fits your specific needs.

Treatment for pain relief often includes a chiropractic adjustment, applying gentle pressure on the painful areas to help reduce nerve irritability and restore your range of motion. Mobilization techniques may also be used, which stretch your sore muscles and joints so they’ll feel better right away.

Beyond immediate relief, a key component of any successful treatment plan involves getting to know the patient and set goals for the future. A holistic treatment plan that includes therapeutic treatment, maintenance care, exercise, and activity modification can help get rid of your pain for good.

This article isn’t intended to provide diagnosis or treatment – there’s no substitute for professional consultation about your specific symptoms. You shouldn’t have to endure leg or back pain –  contact us to schedule an appointment online.

What Causes Lower Back Pain (And What To Do Next)

Everyone’s lower back pain is unique. Pain can come on suddenly or build over time, increase when sitting or lying down, or at other times it seems to follow you everywhere you go.

Regardless of your exact pain, everyone who suffers from lower back pain has one thing in common: you want it gone. And now. While most cases of low back muscle strain subside naturally within a couple of hours to a few days, if your pain has continued for more than a week or two, it’s time to seek medical attention.

First, let’s discuss the different types of lower back pain and the underlying causes.


Sciatica

The term sciatica describes leg pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness that starts off in your lower back and travels down the sciatic nerve in the back of each leg. Sciatica isn’t a medical diagnosis but is a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

You might be experiencing sciatica nerve pain if your pain is:

  • In just one side of your buttock, or in one leg
  • Worse when you’re sitting down
  • Best described as burning, tingling vs.  a dull ache
  • Making it hard to move your leg, foot, and/or toes


Lower Spinal Disc Pain

Disc pain is most common in the lower back, where most spinal movement and weight-bearing activities occur. There are many different terms used to describe issues with a spinal disc and disc pain, including:

  • Herniated, slipped, or bulging disc
  • Pinched nerve
  • Ruptured/torn disc
  • Disc protrusion

There are also two ways a spinal disc can result in lower back pain:

  • Disc pain. Sometimes the disc itself degenerates to the point of causing spinal segments to become unstable. This can result in chronic, low-level pain around the disc mixed in with bouts of more severe pain.
  • Pinched nerve. Most of the time it’s not the disc itself causing lower back pain,  it’s the material leaking out of the disc. This material pinches and irritates nerves in the area, producing sharp, shooting pains that radiate to other parts of the body.


Spinal Arthritis

Stiffness and lower back pain can often be traced back to spinal arthritis. This type of lower back pain moves in a distinct cycle throughout the day, such as:

  • The lower back pain and stiffness are worst first thing in the morning.
  • Over the course of the day, the pain becomes more tolerable.
  • When evening comes, the pain and stiffness get worse.
  • Pain that disrupts sleep is often an indicator of osteoarthritis.

There’s also localized tenderness when you press down on the affected area of the spine. You might also experience pinching, tingling, or numbness in the spinal cord, which happens when bone spurs form at the edge of the joints of the spine and irritate the nerves.


Pulled Lower Back Muscle

A pulled lower back muscle is the culprit in most episodes of lower back pain. It happens when the soft tissues supporting the lower spine, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments, become damaged. Pain usually comes on suddenly and can often be linked to a specific event or activity.

A pulled back muscle might sound like a minor injury, but the pain and muscle spasms that result can be severe. The soft tissues in your lower back help support weight from the upper body. When they’re under too much stress, the low back muscles or soft tissues become injured.

Symptoms from a pulled lower back muscle include:

  • Strained muscles that feel sore, tight, or achy.
  • Pain that gets worse the more you move. You might also feel stiffness when you try to walk or stand.
  • Pain concentrated in the lower back. Pain from a pulled muscle doesn’t travel to other parts of the body.
  • Inflammation that feels tender to the touch.
  • Temporary pain relief when you’re resting.

It’s not uncommon to experience occasional pain flare-ups for up to 4 to 6 weeks after the lower back injury.


Non-surgical Treatments for Lower Back Pain

Fortunately, there is a broad range of non-surgical treatment options available, each one with the goal of relieving pain caused by a compressed nerve root.

A few of the more common measures include:

  • Apply ice – then heat if necessary. If you’ve had an injury (an acute event) or new pain, first try ice to reduce the inflammation. If the pain persists beyond 72 hours, then you may want to try heat or alternating cold and heat.
  • Pain medications. Over-the-counter or prescription medications are often effective in reducing lower back pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or oral steroids can reduce the inflammation that is usually part of the cause of pain. Muscle relaxants or narcotics may also be prescribed for up to 2 weeks to help with the pain.
  • Epidural steroid injections. When the pain is severe, an epidural steroid injection can also reduce inflammation. The injection goes directly into the painful area around the nerve.


Chiropractic Treatment for Lower Back Pain

You may have heard the term “subluxation” used by chiropractors to describe the abnormal position of the vertebra that causes discomfort or pain and can restrict movement. Chiropractors view subluxation – and your lower back pain – as a process, rather than a fixed condition.

Chiropractic treatment for lower back pain usually involves some type of manual therapy:

  • Spinal manipulation and manual manipulation. Widely known as a chiropractic adjustment, gentle pressure is applied to the abnormal vertebra to help reduce nerve irritability and restore range of motion in the back.
  • Mobilization refers to a lower-velocity manipulation that stretches the muscles and joints, increasing the range of motion.

A key part of any successful chiropractic treatment plan involves getting to know the patient and setting achievable goals. The treatment plan is built around the patient’s pain issues and stamina and includes exercise, activity modification and more, all working together to banish your lower back pain for good.



Hey, we get it. You’re experiencing lower back pain and are seeking answers as to what might be causing it. This article isn’t intended to provide diagnosis or treatment – there’s no substitute for professional consultation about your specific symptoms. Don’t let lower back pain keep you down any longer –  contact us to schedule an appointment online.