When you think of sciatica, especially if you’ve ever experienced its debilitating pain, strong leg pain comes to mind. But, as with most conditions, there is a range of symptoms, and more than one cause of sciatica. The symptoms can range from localized pain in one or both buttock regions to excruciating pain all the way down the back of the leg to the foot. If the cause is structural a chiropractic adjustment can provide ready relief.
Let’s take a closer look at the varying forms of sciatica, its causes, and how chiropractic adjustments can help both with back pain relief and with correcting the root cause of the problem.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve, the longest and biggest nerve in the body – extending from the lower back all the way down to your toes.
The Many Faces of ‘Ouch’
What are the symptoms of sciatica? Irritation of the sciatic nerve can result in any number of symptoms including PAIN (of course), but also numbness, weakness, burning, or a more subtle sensation that’s not really pain and not really numbness, but just feels ‘odd’ or different.
Low back pain is common with sciatica, but is not always present. Whatever symptoms you do experience, their location may be only in the buttocks or they may travel all the way down the leg to the foot. The symptoms may be on one side or on both sides, and the intensity may be stronger on one side vs. the other. Interestingly the symptoms may also be found only in isolated body parts – such as the foot or calf only.
What Causes Sciatica?
There are three main causes of sciatica:
1. Because the sciatic nerve originates in the low back, one cause is impingement or pressure on one of the nerves forming (or contributing to) the sciatic nerve. Such nerve impingement can be from a malpositioned bone in your lower back or from a bulging disc.
2. A second location where the sciatic nerve can be irritated is in the pelvis at the sacroiliac joint. If you have ever fallen on your hip or pelvis; if you have ever broken a leg bone or had a major foot, ankle, knee or hip joint injury or surgery; if you have a muscle imbalance from performing a particular sport or activity – you may have a rotated pelvis which stresses a sacroiliac joint, and from there the sciatic nerve that runs right in front of it.
3. The third location where pressure can be put on the sciatic nerve is in the buttocks. There are many muscles located there and the sciatic nerve passes underneath these muscles- at least they are supposed to. In some unlucky people the sciatic nerve passes through a muscle called the piriformis muscle. So, if it contracts, it can actually pinch or ‘scissor’ the sciatic nerve. Simple actions such as pressing on the gas pedal while driving, can cause this muscle to contract thereby pressing on the sciatic nerve.
Heres What You Need To Know About Sciatica
When you are feeling the intense pain of sciatica, understandably all you want is for the pain to go away. At such moments there is a temptation to seek drugs – and the stronger the better. While prescription medication or some over-the-counter (OTC) pain meds or anti-inflammatory formulas may provide some temporary relief, we advocate treatment that gets to the source of the problem: a structural examination by a chiropractor that may include spinal x-rays,
Back to School Backpack Basics
American kids are suffering from back pain and neck pain earlier in their lives and in larger numbers than ever before. And if you’re a parent of school-age children, it’s important for you to know that overweight, improperly designed, and misused backpacks may be one of the big reasons for this growing problem.
This isn’t really news. The truth is that healthcare researchers and practitioners around the world have recognized the issue for a long time and have continued to call attention to it. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that a backpack should not be any heavier than 15% of a child’s body weight, but:
- In 1999, researchers in Italy reported that about 35% of Italian schoolchildren carried more than 30% of their body weight at least once a week—actually exceeding the limits recommended for adults. The average sixth grader’s backpack was the equivalent of a 39-pound burden for a 176-pound man or a 29-pound burden for a 132-pound woman. And of those children carrying heavy backpacks to school, 60% had experienced back pain as a result.
- As early as 2001, researchers at Simmons College in Massachusetts found that 55% of the 345 children they studied were carrying backpacks that exceeded the recommended weight limit, often by a substantial amount. One third of those students said that they had already experienced back pain.
- A 2012 study by researchers in Spain found that 61.4% of 1403 students between the ages of 12 and 17 carried backpacks that weighed more than 10% of their body weight and that those carrying the heaviest backpacks had a 50% higher risk of back pain.
More than Just a Short-Term Health Risk
With an estimated 40 million school-age children carrying backpacks in America, it’s not at all surprising that there are some book bag-related injuries every year. Since 2000, the U.S. Product Safety Commission has reported that children and their backpacks make roughly 7,000 trips to the emergency room annually. However, many observers believe that the real toll is actually far higher since the vast majority of such injuries go unreported and many kids are treated by a family doctor or not treated at all.
It’s not clear how many acute injuries actually result from wearing backpacks as opposed to tripping over them or being hit by them. However, doctors who treat back problems regularly—especially chiropractic physicians—see worrying signs that heavier backpacks are setting the stage for more serious health issues in the future, including chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. Some chiropractors estimate that as many as 75% to 80% of the teenage patients they treat have postural problems directly related to overweight backpacks. This is one reason why the American Chiropractic Association advises parents to limit the weight of a child’s backpack to no more than 5% to 10% of body weight.
What’s Behind the Heavier Backpacks?
In an age of online education and mobile devices, you might be tempted to think that kids’ backpacks would be getting lighter. Not so. Across the past ten years, several factors have come together to increase the amount of weight young students are carrying in their book bags:
- Increases in the amount of homework being assigned to students at a younger age typically mean more heavy books carried between home and school.
- A trend toward removing lockers and individual desks from schools in many cases requires kids to carry all their belongings with them during the day.
- Reduced time between classes or fewer trips to the locker can mean heavier loads for students.
- Longer school days or increased participation in before-school and after-school activities often translates into more supplies and equipment as well as more time wearing the backpack.
How to Choose the Right Backpack and Use it Correctly
A good quality backpack with proper ergonomic features doesn’t have to be expensive. They’re available at many sporting goods stores and discount outlets. Experts offer the following advice:
- Get the size and fit right first. The right backpack should fit between the top of your child’s shoulders and lower back. Bigger is not better, since having more space available creates the potential for a heavier backpack.
- Find one with shoulder straps that are wide, padded and adjustable. These distribute the weight more broadly across the shoulders and chest while allowing the backpack to be fitted snuggly to your child’s body.
- For older students, consider a backpack with chest straps and a hip belt. Chest straps and a hip belt redistribute weight even further and bring the pack closer to the wearer’s body.
- Look for a padded back that will add comfort and protection.
- Choose a backpack with multiple smaller compartments. These help distribute the weight inside the bag and keep it stable.
Once your child has the right bag, it’s just as important to encourage him or her to use it correctly. Chiropractors and physical therapists generally agree that means wearing it on both shoulders with the straps tightened so that it hangs no more than four inches below the waist.
Recognizing the Warning Signs
If you see any of the following signs, it may be time to lighten the load, help your child choose a different backpack or talk about how it’s being used.
- Pain in the back, neck, shoulders or knees
- Red marks left on shoulders by backpack straps
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
- Trouble getting the backpack on or off
- Bending forward or “hunching over” to shift weight from the shoulders to the back
Asking Your Chiropractor for Help
Under normal circumstances, using a backpack shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort. If your child is showing signs of back, neck or should pain, we encourage you to call or visit our office today. In addition to addressing any current problems that your child may be experiencing, your chiropractor can recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen muscles, and improve posture and coordination.
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