What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, and can be felt from the lumbar region all the way to the feet. The pain may be caused by a variety of factors, including herniated discs, inflammatory joint changes, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease.
Along with the pain, common symptoms of sciatica are:
- Weakness in one or both legs, making it difficult to walk or stand;
- Numbness or tingling in the affected leg or foot;
- Muscle spasms in the affected area, which can be painful and interfere with mobility;
While medication and immobilization braces and orthoses are options for treating sciatica, physical therapy is also a highly effective way to manage pain and improve function.
Risks associated with sciatica
There are several risks associated with untreated sciatica, such as prolonged pain which may be accompanied by physical and emotional stress, permanent nerve damage, dependence on pain medications, and others that may cause a negative impact on quality of life.
Because of that, the individual should seek medical assistance, investigate the causes of this condition and carry out the appropriate treatment.
Complementary treatments for sciatica
Besides the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants or immobilization braces and orthoses may be prescribed to treat sciatica, other therapies can improve care and help reduce the pain and associated symptoms.
Alternative treatments highly recommended for sciatica are relaxation techniques, stretches, pilates, massage to relieve pain and improve movement, acupuncture in the area of pain, and physical therapy.
How physical therapy can help relieve sciatica pain
The first step in treating sciatica through physical therapy is to identify the underlying cause of the pain. This can be done through a thorough medical evaluation, which may include a physical examination, medical history, and imaging studies.
After that, a physical therapist can use this information to develop a customized treatment plan to address your case. Exercises, manual therapy and assistive devices may be used in physical therapy to improve movement, manage pain, and promote physical function and wellness.
Some of the most common treatments for sciatica pain are described below.
1. Stretching and strengthening exercises
Stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and reduce muscle spasms, while strengthening exercises can help support the back and improve posture. A physical therapist can help the patient determine which exercises are most appropriate for their individual needs and can demonstrate how to perform them correctly.
2. Manual therapy
Manual therapy includes techniques such as massage, trigger point release, or joint mobilization. These techniques can help relieve muscle tension, reduce pain, and improve mobility. Besides doing it in the session, the physical therapist can teach the patient how to perform them on themselves at home, helping in pain management.
3. Aquatic therapy
Aquatic therapy is a highly effective form of physical therapy that can be especially helpful for those with sciatica. The buoyancy of the water can help reduce pressure on the back and improve mobility, while the resistance provided by the water can help strengthen the muscles.
4. Postural correction
Poor posture is often a contributing factor to sciatica pain. The professional can help the patient identify any postural imbalances and develop a program to correct them. This may include exercises to improve posture and balance, as well as modifications to the patient’s daily activities to reduce stress on the back.
5. Education on proper body mechanisms
A physical therapist can provide education on proper body mechanisms to help prevent future episodes of sciatica. This may include tips on proper lifting techniques, posture and stretching. By incorporating these techniques into their daily lives, patients can reduce their risk of further episodes of sciatica pain.
In conclusion, physical therapy can be a highly effective way to manage sciatica pain and improve function. A physical therapist can work with the patient to develop a customized treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause of the pain and includes a combination of all the techniques mentioned.
If you are suffering from sciatica, contact us or book an appointment online and we’ll help you understand if physical therapy is the best alternative for you!