Lower back pain can interfere with nearly every facet of your daily routine. When you feel a twinge in your lower back, it can be difficult to stand, walk or even sit comfortably. If that back pain is occurring alongside leg pain, it can make you want to do nothing but lie down and stay off your feet for days on end.
Sciatica is a pain that can affect both your lower back as well as your legs. When it feels like the entire lower half of your body is in pain, it’s important to be proactive about treatment so that you can return to your normal activities. The good news is that physical therapy is one of the best courses of action for sciatica, and we’re going to let you know why.
Read on to learn about the basics of sciatica, the benefits of treating it with physical therapy and the potential techniques that a physical therapist might utilize during your sessions.
The basics of sciatica
Let’s dive into what sciatica actually is. Sciatica refers to pain that stems from the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and down through the hips, buttocks and legs, ending in the soles of your feet. It helps your muscles properly function and move while also sending sensory signals to your spine.
Sciatica is usually caused by inflammation around the sciatic nerve or pressure from a herniated disc or bone spurs in the spine.
Sciatica can result in symptoms including:
- Pain throughout your lower extremity.
- Muscle weakness.
- Leg numbness.
- Weakened reflexes.
If you’re experiencing sciatica, you’re not alone. In fact, up to 40% of the population will have sciatica pain at least once in their lifetime. It also affects up to 5% of the population in any given year.
5 benefits of seeking physical therapy for sciatic
When it comes to sciatica, one of the best treatment options is physical therapy. Not only can a physical therapist utilize pain management techniques, but they can also improve the overall quality of the affected soft tissue.
Here are five benefits that physical therapy can provide for individuals with sciatica:
- Decreased pressure on the nerve — Sciatica pain stems from excessive pressure that’s being placed on the sciatic nerve from a spinal issue. A physical therapist can work to relieve the muscle tension in the affected area around the sciatic nerve to reduce the pressure.
- Reduced inflammation — Sciatica often stems from inflammation around the nerves, which can cause redness, swelling and tenderness. Physical therapy techniques, modalities and treatments can help reduce the inflammation that’s contributing to your pain.
- Improved mobility and function — The most common symptoms of sciatica, such as weakness and pain, can reduce your mobility as well as the function of your lower extremity. By alleviating the symptoms, you can work toward restoring your mobility and return to your regular activities with comfort.
- Increased strength of affected tissue — When your abdominal and back muscles can’t provide the support needed for your spine, they can put stress on the surrounding nerves. By strengthening the muscles surrounding your sciatic nerve, you can reduce the pressure and alleviate your pain.
- Decreased risk of future flare-ups — One of the biggest benefits of seeking physical therapy for your sciatica is that it helps to reduce your current pain while helping decrease the risk of experiencing it again in the future. Not only can the physical therapist help improve the overall quality of the affected soft tissue, but they can also provide you with lifestyle recommendations to help reduce the possibility of a flare-up.
Physical therapy techniques for sciatica
Everyone experiences sciatica differently. The pain can stem from different places or the severity of the symptoms can vary from patient to patient. That’s why we’ll design a personalized treatment plan to cater to your specific needs and symptoms.
Your physical therapy sessions for sciatica will likely include techniques like:
- Manual therapy — Sometimes the best way to address pain is with hands-on techniques. For the lower back pain that can stem from sciatica, a physical therapist can use their hands for manual therapy techniques to release the tension in the surrounding soft tissue that’s putting pressure on the nerve.
- Exercises — A physical therapist can guide you through targeted exercises that will help strengthen the muscles surrounding your spine to increase the support and stability needed to decrease pressure on the spine. Exercises play a key role in improving the quality of the affected muscles to reduce the risk of future pain or injury.
- Spinal decompression — At Lattimore PT, we can utilize a manual lumbar traction table for a therapy technique called spinal decompression. It involves the physical therapist gently repositioning and stretching your spine to alleviate the pressure on your pinched nerves or herniated discs.
Lattimore PT can help you get the benefits of physical therapy for your sciatica
Sciatica can have an impact on your overall quality of life, but you don’t need to grin and bear it. Physical therapy is a treatment option that offers many benefits for pain relief as well as reduced risks of a flare-up. At Lattimore PT, we make sure that your treatment plan includes a variety of techniques that will help you be happier and healthier.