Pain that runs down from your lower back into your legs may initially feel like an annoyance, but it quickly worsens. It may leave you with leg and back pain that’s so significant it hurts to walk, and just sitting can be troublesome. Can physical therapy help sciatica? If you suffer from this condition, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down into the hips and buttocks and then down each of your legs. When this nerve suffers inflammation or damage in some way, it may cause intense pain. That’s often referred to as sciatica.
Though various conditions can cause it, it’s common for a herniated disc in the spinal column to be the cause. This disk, which is like a cushion between each of the vertebrae, can become compacted, extending outward from where it should. That impacts the nerve endings. It can also occur when the bone in this region grows abnormally, putting pressure on the nerves.
Most often, those with sciatica will suffer from the following:
- Pain that seems to run down the leg
- Inflammation or tenderness in the lower back
- Numbness in one leg
- Sudden nerve pain
- Muscle weakness in the legs
When Should I See a Physical Therapist?
There are many reasons to seek out a physical therapist for help with sciatica. You should seek out care if you do not see the pain improve within a few days. For example, if the numbness is severe or the pain becomes difficult to treat, and it’s lasted more than a few days, it’s time to seek out help. While a primary doctor can help, a physical therapist could provide support in a more holistic way.
See a physical therapist when:
- You want to improve the underlying cause of the pain
- Medications are not helping it to improve enough
- The pain comes and goes often
- The pain is so debilitating it’s keeping you from living your life
Physical therapy can help sciatica in several ways. First, it can help to reduce the pain you feel by dealing with the inflammation occurring. It can also help treat the underlying cause. That could help improve your physical function and ultimately reduce the risk of it occurring again.
What Kind of Physical Therapy Is Done for Sciatica?
Sciatica treatment can include several different options, depending on your unique needs.
Range of Motion
Improving the range of motion may help to alleviate some of the pain and discomfort. Often, a person may become limited in how much they can move their legs or how confidently they can walk due to this pain.
Deep Tissue Massage
A professionally done deep tissue massage can also help reduce pain associated with sciatica. It works on the specific fascia, or connective tissue, in the impacted area. Deep tissue massage addresses specific spinal muscles. The pressure from the massage and friction from it helps to alleviate the tension in this area.
Your physical therapist may recommend specific strengthening exercises designed to improve the lower back, hip, and spinal muscles. Improving muscle strength helps to reduce pain. It also helps to ease off some of the pressure that’s being put on your spine that could be contributing to sciatica. These tend to be very specific, movement-based exercises and not strenuous weight-based exercises.
Some people find aquatic therapy to be highly effective and less demanding than other types of exercise. It is a gentler method of moving the muscles, ligaments, and tendons against the resistance of the water, making it less demanding overall. If you find weight bearing exercise too painful, this option can work well.
Another important strategy for reducing sciatica pain is to improve posture. Often, it is not just the nerve damage worsening the pain but the proper posture you have while sitting or walking that continues to inflame it. Ergonomic principles can guide your physical therapist in helping you not just reduce current pain but to prevent future pain.
If your doctor recommends physical therapy, don’t put it off. One of the benefits it provides in sciatica treatment is customized care options. That means your physical therapist will create a treatment plan that addresses your specific needs, limitations, and mobility concerns. In other words, you’ll feel relief and improvement. Your health and medical history also play a role in the type of care that’s provided to you.
Can Physical Therapy For Sciatica Pain Help Prevent Future Injuries?
There are a lot of reasons to turn to a physical therapist for pain relief, and this is one of the most important. The treatment of sciatica is typically twofold:
- Reduce the current pain you have now. This is done by reducing painful tension and strengthening muscles.
- Improve the strength and function of the muscles to prevent further injury.
It is often beneficial to invest in physical therapy after an injury because it works to build up those muscles, ensure proper function, and alleviate posture problems that create ongoing challenges.
It is not possible to promise that physical therapy will get rid of sciatica for good. However, with treatment and correction of the underlying cause, as well as strengthening and improved function, it may be possible to see a significant level of improvement in the frequency of sciatica pain.
Reach Out to Rock Valley Physical Therapy
Our team at Rock Valley Physical Therapy can offer insight into what’s happening in your situation. Some instances of sciatica could require more invasive care. However, our goal is to provide you with support in the most holistic and least invasive way possible.
Set up an appointment with our dedicated and supportive staff. We aim to make a difference in your life. As the largest therapist-led organization in the country, we have the unique ability to address your needs in a very personalized, highly effective manner. Call us now to get started.