"Sciatica" is the term for an inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the buttocks down the back of the thigh to the knee, where it branches into two parts, one of which runs along the outside of the leg to the ankle, the other down the calf to the heel. The sciatic is the largest nerve in the body and there are many possible causes of pain along its path.
The most common assumption, both by laymen and by many health care professionals, is that sciatica is caused by a disc herniation or protrusion between the vertebrae of the low back, where the branches that make up the sciatic begin. While this is one possible source of sciatic pain, in the majority of cases it is not the cause. Disc herniations are not as common a source of back pain as was once thought.
Often the irritation of the sciatic nerve is due to abnormal movement or alignment of spinal joints in the area of the spine where the sciatic nerve arises. The nerve can also be irritated or "pinched" by muscles in the buttocks which lie across the nerve. This is usually due to improper pelvic alignment or lack of movement in the sacroiliac joints.
Often pain in the legs is mistakenly assumed to be sciatica. Pain in the distribution of the sciatic nerve can arise as a referred pain from muscles or ligaments which are under stress or strain. Pain along the side or the front of the thigh is not sciatica. Such pain can arise from spinal imbalance, muscle or ligament irritation, or from the hip joint. Your chiropractor can determine the most likely cause of any leg pain.
Most cases of sciatica respond well to chiropractic treatment. Remember that pain is the body’s warning that something is not functioning properly.