Sciatica pain can cover a correspondingly wide area, but often only affects one side of your body. If you have sciatica, you may feel as though your leg is cramping, or the pain can be quite severe. You may also feel numbness, tingling, or burning in the affected areas.
Causes of Sciatica Pain
Sciatica pain can be caused by any of the following:
- A pinched nerve on the inside or outside of the spinal canal as it passes into the leg
- A herniated or slipped disc, which puts pressure on a nerve
- Spinal stenosis, which narrows the spaces in your backbone, putting pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.
- Spondylolisthesis, which causes a bone in your back to slip, making it move toward the bone below it. This can squeeze your spinal cord or nerves.
- Piriformis syndrome, which develops when a small muscle in your buttocks spasms, putting pressure on your sciatic nerve.
- Trigger points, or small contractions of muscle can develop along the path of the sciatic nerve. Nerve fibers attached to groups of muscle fibers send impulses to the brain when muscles are contracted. When the muscle relaxes, the impulses stop, allowing the muscle fiber to lengthen. A trigger point is malfunction of the junction between those nerve and muscle fiber connections, keeping some of them contracted even when the large muscle is at rest.
If your pain is severe or ongoing, there are several types of sciatica treatment available that can address the pain. One such set of treatments is called Trigger Point Therapy—manual therapy targeting muscles which may have developed sensitive areas of contraction that don’t release normally. Releasing these trigger points can reduce sciatic nerve irritation and resulting pain.
Types of trigger point sciatica treatment vary, from medical to holistic options. Several to consider:
Myofascial Release Massage
Myofascial release is a type of massage therapy where light manual pressure is applied specific groups of muscles in order to find and release trigger points. For sciatic nerve pain, therapists may concentrate on the piriformis muscle and muscles in your lower back and gluteus (buttock) muscles that move the top of your leg. The manual pressure and stretching used in this therapy loosens up restricted movement, which may lead indirectly to reduce pain. You may not see immediate results, but may find relief over a period of time.
Your doctor may inject a corticosteroid into a trigger point to help reduce inflammation. If the injection is effective in your particular case, its positive effects may last a few months. These injections can have some serious side effects (including joint infections and nerve damage) if they’re administered too frequently.
This ancient treatment has been practiced in China for thousands of years to relieve pain. Modern acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles through the skin at specific locations along energy meridians in the body in order to rebalance the flow of “chi,” the energy or life force. Some people think acupuncture works by increasing the flow of your body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals, such as cortisol. Others think it can alter nerve impulses so you’ll feel less pain. The treatment has been employed for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, and some people find it brings them relief.
Another traditional Chinese medical practice involves putting hand-pressure on special pressure points that lie under the skin along energy meridians, or channels, in the body. These are the same energy meridians targeted with acupuncture. Practitioners use pressure from their fingers, palms, (even elbows, feet or special devices) to apply pressure to these “acupoints.” Similar to acupuncture, the goal is to remove blockages and restore balance to the body’s channels of energy.
Dry needle therapy
In dry needle therapy, a needle similar to an acupuncture needle is inserted into a trigger point, which generates a local twitch response to deactivate that trigger point. The procedure is usually carried out by physical therapists as part of a treatment therapy to address myofascial pain. Over time, dry needling can stabilize the electrical and chemical balance within the muscle to its normal, relaxed state, and draw white blood cells and plasma cells to the area to stimulate a healing response.
Discussing Your Treatment Options with Your Doctor
Trigger point therapy can be an effective sciatica treatment that provides significant relief for some patients. Talk to your doctor about the various treatments available. He or she can make specific recommendations for treatment based on your history and needs.