The symptoms of sciatica often include sharp pain, numbness, tingling or burning in the back of the legs. In severe circumstances, weakness in the legs can also be seen. The sciatic nerve is a large nerve that travels down the back of the leg to the bottom of the foot. It includes several smaller nerves and originates from the spine at the level of the low back. It passes under the piriformis muscles, which lies under the gluteus maximus muscle (main buttock muscle) on its way down the leg. Irritation of the sciatic nerve at any point along its path is commonly referred to as "sciatica".
A diagnosis of sciatica, however, is often of little use to the sufferer unless it specifically indicates where along the nerve the irritation is occurring. Although entrapment of the nerve can happen in several different places, the two most common sites are where the nerve originates at the spine and where the nerve passes under the piriformis muscle.
Both cases respond well to chiropractic services, although treatment can be drastically different depending on the cause.
Irritation of the nerve as it exits the spine is often the result of mechanical dysfunction of the joints of the spine. Occasionally, the nerves exiting the spine can become "pinched". Although the traditional idea of an impinged nerve is one that is sandwiched between two bones, we now know that nerves can become irritated at the spine in a number of different ways. Nerves can be pressed upon by bulging discs, encroached on by bony overgrowth or "stuck" to surrounding soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, fascia).
Sciatica related to joint dysfunction is best corrected using chiropractic adjustments. By using carefully directed and controlled pressure to restore joints to a normal position and motion, the pressure placed on the nerve is quickly and painlessly reduced. This often results in immediate (sometimes dramatic) pain relief.
Sciatica related to disc injury often requires additional treatment methods. The McKenzie protocol and fixing movement impairments are keys to stabilizing the low back and pelvis. The aim of the McKenzie protocol is to reduce nerve impingement by "reshaping" the spinal disc with sustained pressure over successive treatments.