Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Can I Relieve My Sciatica
without Going to a Chiropractor?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

QuestionI suffer from recurring sciatica and lower back pain on my right side. I have seen a chiropractor and an orthopedic doctor. After an MRI, the orthopedic doctor could not find the cause of my pain. However, he hypothesized it stems from the fact that I have to sit for prolonged periods in my job. I still have full muscle control. He gave me a shot of cortisone and the pain disappeared for about two weeks, but it is back again. When I go to the chiropractor, the pain lessens a little, but usually moves from the side of my thigh to the back of my thigh.

I do back exercises daily and try to walk four or five times a week. Based on all of this, it seems I have a bulging disc. What should I do myself? What would offer relief (aside from quitting my job) other than going to a chiropractor? I am pretty fit and healthy otherwise. Also, I am only 23. Any advice would be helpful.

Answer

Since your sciatica comes and goes, it's not likely to cause any serious problems. If you begin to develop any weakness in your leg or foot, however, be sure to bring it to the attention of your orthopedist.

It's possible that prolonged sitting can cause sciatic-type leg pain by placing pressure on the sciatic nerve where it passes through the buttock and down the back of the thigh. If you have a bulging disc, sitting in a slumped posture might increase the bulging. Sitting with pressure against the back of your thigh might irritate the sciatic nerve.

When you are working, sit erect so that you maintain a slight (normal) arch in your lumbar spine (lower back). An office chair with a cushioned seat and a lumbar support might be helpful. Make sure that the height of your chair is adjusted so that both feet are flat on the floor and the edge of the chair seat does not place pressure across the back of your thighs.

Get up from your chair and walk around frequently during the day. Stretch your lower back and expand your discs occasionally by using your arms to support your weight (for a few seconds) between two chairs turned back to back. Keep up your walking program and your back exercises, but don't do any exercise that causes pain. You might benefit more from a long-term self-help program than from treatment modalities in occasional office visits.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on June 7, 2002.