Sciatica is a painful condition that affects millions of people each year. It’s characteristic shooting pain, dull ache, and even numbness throughout the lower back, buttocks, and down through the thigh and into the leg is not only painful, but often debilitating as well. It can cause difficulty in walking, standing, and also tends to flare up when sitting for long periods of time. You might be aware that there are medical treatments for sciatica, but did you know that physical therapy is also a viable source of pain relief for your sciatica symptoms?
What Causes Sciatica in the First Place?
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It extends from the lower back, through the buttocks and thigh, then branches out into the leg and foot. Any pressure on the nerve can cause severe pain. This pain is often diagnosed as sciatica. This pressure on the sciatic nerve can come from a variety of sources. Most often it occurs from a herniated or bulging disk, misaligned vertebrae or other spinal disorders or injuries. It can also be caused by excess weight, such as obesity or even pregnancy. Even some conditions such as diabetes and spinal tumors can result in sciatic pain.
Sciatica pain generally occurs on just one side of the body. It can range from mild irritation to extreme pain, making it difficult to move. Sitting or standing for long lengths of time can often exacerbate the condition. Symptoms run the gamut from a dull ache, to sharp, stabbing pain all the way to numbness and even burning.
How Can Physical Therapy Help My Sciatica?
At first, it might seem counterintuitive to attempt to utilize physical therapy to improve your sciatica symptoms. After all, when you’re in pain, the last thing you feel like doing is physical activity. As crazy as it may sound, however, physical movement is more than likely exactly what your body needs. Of course, the type of therapy that will work best for your body will depend on many factors including the originating source of your sciatica as well as the severity of your symptoms, but for many people, resting as a means of treating sciatica for more than a few days, could be counterproductive. Its imperative to consult your healthcare professional to know what form of treatment best meets your needs.
What Will a Physical Therapist Do to Treat My Sciatica?
There are many methods and forms of treatment physical therapists can use to alleviate your symptoms of sciatica. As different methods work better for some patients, the therapist will first complete an evaluation to help determine the best course of treatment for you. This treatment will likely primarily consist of a program of gentle exercises and include things that you can also do at home.
Physical therapy treatments for sciatica will generally fall into three main categories including aerobic conditioning, stretching, and strengthening. These are the categories, and how they can help to improve sciatica and reduce pain:
- Aerobic Exercise—Low impact aerobic activity including walks, swimming, and even exercises done while in the pool, are a great source of relief from the pain of sciatica. This type of activity helps to release endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers, and also promotes the exchange of nutrients and fluids throughout the body.
- Stretching—Another physical therapy treatment recommended for sciatica is for the patient to engage in stretching, especially in the hamstring area, though the idea is to target all muscles in the area of sciatica pain.
- Strengthening—Exercises that help strengthen the spine, as well as the muscles and ligaments of the surrounding areas are crucial to managing sciatica pain. These strengthening exercises will focus on the lower back, but also include the buttock, abdominal, and hip muscles.
- Hybrid Activities—Often, physical therapists might combine the above activities creating opportunities to experience the benefits of two or more of these therapies, instead of just one. Examples of this might include Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga, and water aerobics.
Is Physical Therapy the Right Choice for Me?
Physical therapy has proven to be an effective treatment for reducing the pain and symptoms of sciatica. It is one of the more affordable options and is often covered by insurance. Physical therapy is multi-faceted and has a variety of treatment options to choose from. This makes it highly customizable to the needs of the individual patient. In addition, your physical therapy team will usually also teach you how to do some exercises and activities at home. Treatments with physical therapy do not usually include surgery or pain medications and patients. However, many patients see improvement in as little as a couple of visits. While it is true that some people who suffer from sciatica may require higher levels of treatment, many people will find success in alleviating their sciatica pain through physical therapy.
How Can I Find a Physical Therapist to Treat My Sciatic Pain?
The chiropractor or physician who confirmed your sciatica diagnosis can generally provide a referral to a great physical therapist near you. Some chiropractors and physicians even have physical therapists on staff or as partners in their office building. Even if you already know of a good physical therapist, however, make sure to check with your insurance first. In some cases you may need a referral from your physician before making an appointment. Once you have that information, you’ll be ready to begin the journey toward reduction of sciatica pain through physical therapy. If you need further assistance in locating a physical therapist, contact the American Physical Therapy Association.
If you want to learn more about seeing a physical therapist for sciatica treatment, please contact Freedom Health Centers at (972) 542-3300 today. Our experienced staff can provide a full evaluation as well as the information you need to make the best treatment decision for you. We have your best interests at heart and want to help you live a full and healthy life.