top of page

What's in a Name?

Often giving a label to a particular condition only serves to confuse people about what is actually going on. The term lumbago, for instance, is a centuries old term not often used today. The medical dictionary defines lumbago as "pain in the lumbar region." The lumbar region is the area that is generally referred to as the "low back". So basically, any pain arising from injury to the muscles, ligaments, or joints of the low back will give you "lumbago".

When pain radiates down the back of the leg from the lower back, it is often diagnosed as sciatica. Sciatica refers to pain along the course of the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. It forms in the buttock area from branches of nerve roots that exit from the lower part of the spine and it descends the back of the thigh to the knee where it branches into two. Sciatica may be the result of one or more of the nerve roots in the lower back being compressed or "pinched" between two vertebrae or it may be due to muscles and ligaments pressing on the nerve. The pain may be accompanied by a tingling or numb sensation in the foot.

There are many reasons why a nerve root may become compressed between two vertebrae. Often it is due to a simple misalignment of the vertebrae. Sometimes swelling from a strained vertebral joint can put pressure on the nerve as it exits the spine. Occasionally, sciatica is the result of nerve root pressure from a bulging disc (often misleadingly referred to as a slipped disc). A more common cause for sciatica is pressure from muscles in the buttock area caused by pelvic misalignment.

Not all leg pain is sciatica. It may arise from other nerves being irritated or from referred pain caused by muscles and ligaments. If you’ve been diagnosed as having a problem with your sacroiliac, you probably have strained the sacroiliac joints or ligaments. The sacroiliac joints are the joints formed between the sacrum - or the triangular bone at the base of the spine - and the two hip bones on either side. They are in the area of the "dimples" in the low back. The sacroiliac ligaments surround the sacroiliac joints. When these joints or ligaments are strained, they can cause not only pain at the base of the spine, but also buttock pain, hip pain and pain that radiates down the leg.

The chiropractic approach to low back pain and leg pain is to determine the cause. The low back and pelvis are examined for misalignments, lack of proper joint movement and indications of nerve root pressure. Spinal manipulation, the main tool of the chiropractor, is used to restore proper joint mechanics and alignment and to remove any irritation to the nerves that arise from between the vertebrae. Manipulation also serves to relieve the pressure on strained muscles that attach to that area of the spine. Correcting these mechanical faults usually alleviates the pain.


If you are suffering from low back and leg pain, whether it’s called lumbago, sciatica, or a sacroiliac problem, check with a chiropractor to see what can be done to eliminate the cause.

bottom of page