Doc, I think I have sciatica… Help!

“I hear this quite frequently,” says Dr. Patti Andrews, an Edmonton chiropractor. “What many people don’t realize is that sciatica is not a condition in itself, but rather a set of symptoms.”

The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that starts in the lower lumbar spine and runs down to the buttocks and thigh, and then branches off to the legs and feet. It conveys sensation and motor messages to and from our lower backs, thighs, legs and feet.

“When the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated it can produce symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning and weakness along the distribution of the nerve,” says Dr. Andrews. “While most sciatica complaints are due to problems in the low back, the nerve symptoms are usually worse.”

The most common causes of sciatic nerve compression or irritation are lumbar disc herniation, spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome, spondylolisthesis and sacroiliac joint dysfunction. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis in order to treat sciatic symptoms effectively.

Each person’s treatment will be different depending on the diagnosis. In general, exercises like yoga and certain muscle techniques can ease sciatic symptoms. Chiropractic adjustments are very successful in treating some of the above conditions, but a full history and examination are important to rule out cases that require surgery.

“Most sciatica will get better with time and conservative care,” says Dr. Andrews. “But if four to six weeks of conservative care – such as chiropractic and physiotherapy – does not resolve the symptoms, it is important to get additional testing done.”

X-rays can be helpful, but a CT or MRI is best as they will show disc herniation and stenosis. Some disc herniation and spinal stenosis can require surgery if conservative treatments do not help.

If you are experiencing sciatic symptoms, consult your chiropractor. Chiropractors are specially trained to diagnose and treat conditions of the musculoskeletal system (the body’s bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, joints and connective tissues).

For more information, including where to find a chiropractor near you, visit