The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. It extends from the lumbar spine through the buttocks area. Sciatica is pain that results from the irritation of the sciatic nerve. Generally, pain is felt in the lumbar area and behind the thigh. The pain can also radiate to the lower limbs. Sciatica can make bending and walking very difficult. The most common cause of sciatica is lumbar disc herniation, but it can be caused by a back injury and disc degeneration. Sciatica is also referred to as lumbar radiculopathy.
Diagnosing and Treating Sciatica
Sciatica is diagnosed with a medical history and physical exam. A CT scan or MRI may be performed to locate the root cause of sciatica. According to Move Forward, “Conservative care like physical therapy often results in better and faster results than surgery or pain medication.” A physical therapist will work with you to:
- Reduce sciatica pain.
- Improve motion.
- Improve flexibility.
- Increase strength.
- Educate you on how to stand, bend and twist.
- Return to normal activities.
A physical therapist may use several types of treatments to reduce pain and symptoms of sciatica. Active treatments include motions, stretches and specific exercises to accelerate healing and give pain relief. A physical therapist will teach you different motions that you can do at home for pain relief. If a physical therapist discovers any weak muscles, you will be given corrective exercises for core strengthening. The strengthening exercises in physical therapy not only focus on the lower back but the abdominal muscles, hip muscles, and glutes. All of these exercises help strengthen the spinal column, including the tendons, ligaments and supporting muscles while 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 easily with the buoyancy of water.
Passive treatments may include electric therapy, heat therapy, ultrasound or massage therapy. All of these different modalities help reduce pain, stimulate blood flow and accelerate healing. Electrotherapy uses electricity to reduce pain, strengthen muscles, ramp up circulation and improve physical function. Massage therapy helps alleviate sciatic nerve pain. It loosens tight back muscles that may be pressing on the sciatic nerve, and it increases the release of endorphins for pain relief. Heat therapy helps relax muscles and reduce inflammation.
All around, physical therapy for sciatica is a non-invasive, multifaceted treatment and an effective treatment plan that is targeted to the root cause of sciatica. A physical therapist will devise a personalized treatment just for you. The goal is to help you live a pain-free life. Say “no” to surgery and opioids with physical therapy.
You can say “no” to sciatica with physical therapy. Plus, you’ll learn how to prevent sciatica in the future by doing home-exercise motions that your physical therapist has taught you for maintenance. By practicing good posture, proper body mechanics and staying in good shape, you can also prevent sciatica from occurring again.
If you’re suffering from sciatica, be sure to give our office a call our Ann Arbor, MI physical therapy team for a one-on-one consultation with one of our physical therapists. A comprehensive exam will be performed, and our physical therapists will get you on the road to recovery. Get back in the game with physical therapy. You’re just a phone call away from living a pain-free life.