Chiropractor for Algonquin and Lake in the Hills
Picture of chiropractor review x-ray scans indicating sciatica with female patient.

How Can I Tell Whether I Have Sciatica or Peripheral Neuropathy

Pain and numbness in the legs can make it hard to know whether you have sciatica or peripheral neuropathy. Learn what symptoms set these conditions apart.

Is It Sciatica or Peripheral Neuropathy? What You Need to Know

The symptoms of sciatica or peripheral neuropathy are easy to confuse. Both conditions cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the legs and feet. The impact on your strength and balance may also make falls more likely.

Sciatica and peripheral neuropathy are two of the more challenging conditions treated at Algonquin Chiropractic. You may limit the activities you enjoy when you have one of these problems. You may also struggle to get a good night’s sleep or turn to potentially addictive medicine.

The conditions are very different, however. Read on to learn more and find out how chiropractic care can help.

The Symptoms of Sciatica Depend on Circumstances

Sciatica is a common set of symptoms. The severity of these symptoms depends on a few different factors.

For example, pain and numbness with sciatica are usually worse in the morning. You’re also likely to feel worse when sitting or driving. Coughing or sneezing adds also to the pain for some people.

Location of Symptoms

In most cases, the pain and numbness associated with sciatica will start in the lower back. Next, symptoms radiate to the hip and travel down the leg to the foot in a predictable pattern. Your symptoms are usually confined to one side of the body.

Symptoms range from mild to severe.

Causes and Related Problems

Nerve irritation or compression in the lower back most often cause sciatica. Back pain is also common. Two other problems, herniated disc and spinal stenosis, may also play a role:

Doctors may order MRIs or EMGs to learn more. They may also recommend medicine, physical therapy, steroid injections, or surgery.

Illustration shows where the spine is affected by sciatica as a guide to the best treatment for sciatica.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body.

The Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy Primarily Affect the Legs and Feet

Peripheral neuropathy differs from sciatica in many ways. For example, its symptoms do not vary by the time of day. Sitting, coughing, or sneezing are not likely to affect the symptoms either.

You are also not likely to have back pain, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis.

Location of Symptoms

Symptoms usually start in the toes and feet and slowly travel up the leg. Unlike with sciatica, symptoms most often affect both sides of the body.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Causes and Related Symptoms

Peripheral neuropathy usually occurs when poor circulation leads to nerve degeneration. The lack of circulation causes problems in the legs, feet, and toes.

Doctors may order an EMG and prescribe medicine. They may also tell you there’s nothing more they can do.

So, what do we do?

Chiropractic care can help, even if other treatments have failed. Algonquin Chiropractic, in Algonquin, IL, has treated thousands of patients from the Chicago area.

Two people exercising in a park as part of the best treatment for sciatica.
Physical therapy exercises may be recommended to ease the pain of sciatica.

How We Treat Sciatica

First, we perform a thorough history exam and order proper imaging. The exam will make it clear whether you have sciatica or peripheral neuropathy.

Many patients come to us as a last resort. As a result, they have had imaging done before. If needed, however, we will X-ray sciatica patients.

We do not routinely order MRIs. Research suggests an MRI should be ordered only in certain cases. These include weakness, progressive neurologic deficit, or cauda equina syndrome. MRIs are also ordered if you haven’t improved 50% in the first 2 to 4 weeks of treatment. Most sciatica patients do not need an MRI.

If we can help you, we will tailor a program to your needs. This may include:

  • Cox Technique – A gentle decompressive treatment that creates negative pressure on the disc and nerve.
  • Manipulation Not used in the early treatment of sciatica, but may be used in the chronic phase.
  • Interferential current – A soothing electrical stimulation wave to control pain.
  • Super Pulsed Laser – Penetrates deeply into the soft tissues to speed up healing and increase circulation.
  • Standing Vibration Therapy – Vibration therapy improves posture, increases core strength, and improves balance 3 to 4 times faster than standing on the ground. You won’t find this therapy in most rehab centers.
  • Custom-Made Orthotics – The alignment of your feet will affect your posture. This may add stress on your lower back. Custom-made orthotics put the feet in better alignment. Orthotics help level the pelvis, improve posture, and also decrease shock stress.
  • Massage therapy – Not your “traditional massage.” Our therapists break up adhesions and scar tissue, improve flexibility, and “movement patterns.” Massage also enhances posture.
  • Rehabilitation – Initially, exercises are given to decrease pain and inflammation. We then gradually add in core exercises and full-body exercises.

How We Treat Peripheral Neuropathy

Again, most people have been to their medical doctor already, and sometimes to a neurologist.

Depending on your care, you may be uncertain at this point whether you have sciatica or peripheral neuropathy or another condition.

Some patients have been given an EMG or a nerve test. Some have been told nothing can be done. Many have tried various medications with varying degrees of success, but all have unwanted side effects.

Peripheral neuropathy patients come to us for an alternative to strong drugs with side effects. They are looking to get to the cause of the problem and not cover it up with meds.

To do that we may use one or more of the following:

  • Super pulsed laser – This type of laser produces nitric oxide, which boosts circulation.
  • Seated vibration – Patients sit with their feet on a vibrating platform. The vibration increases blood flow to the feet and toes.
  • Standing vibration – This treatment improves circulation and balance.
  • Rebuilder therapy – Patients wear a “conductive garment” that looks like a sock. The garment conducts specialized electrical signals over the feet and toe, helping heal damaged nerve endings.
  • Massage – Massage increases circulation and blood flow to the feet and toes.
  • Custom-made orthotics – Orthotics help if foot bio-mechanics cause pain and also improve balance.
  • Diet and nutrition – Eating better decreases inflammation, controls blood sugar, increases circulation, and also heals nerve tissue.

The same treatments may be used for sciatica and peripheral neuropathy in some cases. Reasons for the treatments are not the same, however. The desired effects on the body depend on the condition.

Chiropractic Care Helps Sciatica or Peripheral Neuropathy

Algonquin Chiropractic has helped hundreds of people with sciatica or peripheral neuropathy in Algonquin.

We can help you get back to your active lifestyle. No drugs, injections, or surgery are needed.

Don’t Wait for Things to Get Worse

Without proper treatment, these conditions can get worse, threatening your quality of life. You may reach a point where you will try anything and end up having invasive procedures that often don’t eliminate the problem. Even worse, you may become addicted to opioid pain medicine to find some relief.

Put an end to the pain by calling (847) 854-2000 for an appointment. Learn how Algonquin Chiropractic in Algonquin, IL, can change your life for the better.

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in 2018 and was updated on June 20, 2019.