Can Sciatica Cause Neck and Shoulder Pain?


If you’re suffering from sciatica, you are familiar with the range of pain associated with it, largely involving the lower back and legs and sometimes shooting up to the neck and shoulders. Most people fail to realize that they’re afflicted by sciatica and dismiss symptoms as mere body pain.

What Is Sciatica?

Spine Health, a leading online resource for the understanding, prevention and treatment of spinal problems, clarifies that sciatica is not an illness in itself but is a range of symptoms associated with nerve problems. Sciatica is manifested by varying kinds and degrees of leg pain such as tingling, numbness and weakness. In worst cases, sciatica can render a person immobile for a few days.

Can Sciatica Cause Neck and Shoulder Pain?

Dr. Brian Floyd, a chiropractor in North Vancouver, notes that sciatic pain is not localized; it starts in the lower back and shoots down to the buttocks and farther to the large sciatic nerve found in the back of the leg. This condition, especially when accompanied by bad posture and a reckless lifestyle, can impact the neck and the shoulder, resulting in a wider scope of pain and discomfort.

Alternately, a pinched nerve in the neck area can also be the reason behind sciatic pain. Although the pain can be felt mainly in the lower back, the root can be traced all the way up to the base of the skull, where there could be misalignment. In either case, professional help is advised, as this could lead to more serious and debilitating problems.

Understanding the Sciatic Nerve

If you’re wondering how the sciatic nerve can have such a tremendous impact, it is due to the fact that it is the largest single nerve in our body. It is comprised of many delicate smaller nerves that stem from the lower spine, runs through to the buttocks and the back of each leg and then branches out to the thighs, calves, feet and toes. Irritation or compression of this bunch of nerves results in sciatica symptoms, a hodgepodge of pain found in one or more parts of the body.

Different Types of Sciatica

There are several factors that contribute to the development of sciatica. The additional weight during pregnancy, improper weightlifting posture and prolonged sitting can pinch the sciatic nerve or its smaller branches, resulting in sciatic symptoms that manifest in many different ways.

  1. Piriformis Syndrome: Symptoms of piriformis syndrome are felt in the piriformis muscle, found in the buttocks area of the body. Of the different types of sciatica, piriformis syndrome is the hardest one to diagnose, primarily because it affects the muscle and, therefore, does not show up in X-rays.
  2. Herniated or Bulging Disc: A herniated disc and a bulging disc are two of the more common types of sciatica, the root of which originates in the disc itself. A herniated disc happens when the nucleus pulposis, or the jelly-like center of the disc, leaks through a tear in the annulus fibrosis. On the other hand, a bulging disc is the result of the nucleus pulposis bulging outward, causing tension and pain.
  3. Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: This type of sciatica occurs with age, when the spinal canal grows narrow, resulting in a tendency to pinch the spinal nerves and causing pressure on the spinal cord itself.
  4. Spondylolisthesis: A result of an injury or a congenital condition, spondylolisthesis can be the most painful type of sciatica. It occurs when one vertebra pushes forward to the next vertebra, compressing the sciatic nerve and resulting in a remarkable stabbing pain.

Chiropractic Treatment for Sciatica

There are different ways of treatment to take care of sciatica and its symptoms. Remedies such as an ice/cold compress, pain relievers, stretching, yoga and acupuncture have been proven to alleviate sciatic pain. However, if you want to treat sciatica right at its root, you may have to explore other options, such as chiropractic.

Spine Universe, a website dedicated to liberating its audience from spinal pain and disorders, recommends chiropractic treatment for sciatica. Chiropractic treatment is based on the philosophy of coaxing the body’s natural ability to heal itself. It is a non-invasive and drug-free method that both relieves sciatic pain and treats sciatica at its core, which is, most of the time, an inflamed sciatic nerve.

The chiropractic treatment for sciatica begins with a thorough consultation and extends through to a significant lifestyle change. In the middle of it is a series of modalities necessary to release tension and correct sciatica:

  • Ice/cold therapy: To reduce inflammation and pain
  • Ultrasound: To introduce sound waves which create heat in the muscles, enhancing circulation and alleviating pain, swelling, stiffness, spasms and cramps
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation: To introduce varying degrees of electrical current to reduce pain and spasms
  • Spinal manipulation or adjustments: Spinal manipulation or adjustment is the founding principle of chiropractic, which aims to restore the body’s range of motion by correcting misalignments and nerve compression.

Living with sciatica is difficult; one day you’re doing great and the next you’re stuck in bed, not being able to move. The key to treating sciatica is recognizing that you do have sciatica and not just shrugging it off. If you’re suffering from neck, shoulder or lower back pain, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional.

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