Lumbar radiculopathy, commonly referred to as sciatica, is a common condition that many people experience. It occurs as a result of irritation to the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve stretches from the lumbar spine through the buttocks, all the way down to the big toe. Irritation of this nerve is typically felt as pain in the lower back. However, sciatica pain can also be felt in the buttocks, thighs, lower legs, feet, or toes. It can be felt as aching, stabbing, burning, tingling, numbness, cold water, or other sensations down the leg. This generally leads to challenges in your ability to sit, stand, bend, lift, twist, or move. Sciatica is commonly caused by a herniated disc or pinched nerve; however, a back trauma or age-related disc degeneration can also result in the condition.
Do You Have Sciatica?
Sciatica is diagnosed through a careful physical examination and an evaluation of your medical and surgical history. Here’s some information on the symptoms of sciatica from a herniated disc. Your referring doctor may have ordered an x-ray or MRI to help locate the root cause of sciatica. Often, you don’t need this MRI test to evaluate or treat sciatica successfully. According to Move Forward PT, “Conservative care like physical therapy often results in better and faster results than surgery or pain medication.” Once you are diagnosed with sciatica, a physical therapist will work with you to manage and relieve the condition. This includes:
- Increasing strength
- Increasing flexibility
- Improving motion and body mechanics
- Improving posture and ergonomics
- Educating you on how to stand, bend, and twist
- Reducing nerve tension and sciatica pain
- Returning to normal activities
Treating Sciatica with Physical Therapy
A physical therapist may use several types of treatments to reduce your sciatica pain and symptoms. After a careful evaluation, your physical therapist will work with you to determine the best approach to treating your pain. Active treatments include body mechanics training, ergonomics assessment, stretches, and specific exercises aimed at reducing pain and accelerating healing. A physical therapist will also teach you a home program that you can do at home in order to manage your pain.
If a physical therapist discovers any weak muscles, you will be given corrective exercises for core strengthening. The strengthening exercises in your physical therapy treatments focus not only on the lower back, but also on the hip muscles, abdominal muscles, and glutes. All of the exercises you participate in will help strengthen the spinal column (including your tendons, ligaments, and supporting muscles) while also keeping the spine in proper alignment.
The stretching exercises in physical therapy target muscles that are inflexible and tight. Hamstring stretching is an important part of a physical therapy treatment program to alleviate sciatica. An aquatic exercise program may also be recommended by a physical therapist. You can do exercises more easily with the buoyancy of water.
Passive treatments may include highly skilled manual therapy, joint mobilizations, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, nerve glides, dry needling, instrument-assisted soft tissue massage, cupping, kinesiology taping, ice and heat therapies, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound. All of these different treatments help reduce pain, stimulate blood flow, and accelerate healing. Highly skilled manual therapy helps alleviate sciatic nerve pain by loosening up tight back muscles, fascia, and connective tissues that may be pressing on the sciatic nerve, and it increases the release of endorphins for pain relief. Ice and heat therapies are also common, as they help ease pain, relax muscles, and reduce inflammation. Electrotherapy may also be applied, which uses electricity to also aid in reducing pain, strengthening muscles, ramping up circulation, and improving physical function.
Schedule Your Consultation Today
If you are looking for an effective, safe, and non-invasive approach to sciatica treatment, physical therapy is your best option. Physical therapy treatments work to target the root of the problem. Careful evaluation and assessment helps us determine the best individualized treatment plan to meet your needs. Our goal is to help you meet your goal, to relieve pain, and to improve function.
If you have been living with sciatica, or you think you may be experiencing sciatica symptoms, relief is within your grasp: contact Insight Rehab today! Our licensed physical therapists will meet with you to perform a comprehensive exam that will help determine the best treatment plan for you. Don’t let your sciatica pain dictate your life any longer – find relief today with physical therapy.
American Physical Therapy Association. (2018.) Sciatica and Physical Therapy. Mark Bishop. November 8, 2018. <https://www.choosept.com/radio/detail/sciatica-physical-therapy>.
Movement for Life Physical Therapy. (2018.) Physical Therapy for Sciatica. June 13, 2018. <https://www.movementforlife.com/blog/physical-therapy-for-sciatica.php>.