Can Physical Therapy Relieve My Sciatica for Good?

Jun 01, 2023
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As one of the most common chronic pain problems in the United States, sciatica can be both disruptive and disabling. Luckily, it’s also highly treatable. Find out how physical therapy can ease your pain and help you get back to your active life.

Your sciatic nerve allows you to feel and control your lower body. If sciatic nerve pain — also known as sciatica — has ever limited your activities, disrupted your sleep, or stopped you in your tracks, you’re in good company: Two in five adults (40%) in the United States experience sciatica at some point in their lives.    

Sciatica may be a frequent chronic pain complaint, but we’ve got good news: Most cases of sciatic nerve pain (up to 90%) improve substantially if not completely with conservative care measures. One of the most effective treatments for sciatica? Physical therapy (PT).  

As a board-certified pain management expert who specializes in providing long-term sciatica relief at Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates, Dr. Okezie N. Okezie wants you to know that PT can go a long way in alleviating sciatica and preventing its recurrence. Here’s how it can help you.  

Getting to the source of sciatic nerve pain 

Rooted at five sites on each side of your lumbar spine (lower back) and sacrum (bottommost section of spine), your sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body. 

Extending from their individual root sites, these nerves come together to form two sciatic nerve bundles: One that branches to the right side of your lower body, and another that branches to the left side. In this way, the sciatic nerve runs through the back of each hip, extends down each leg, and reaches into the sole of each foot.

Most cases of sciatica occur when something compresses or inflames one or more of the sciatic nerve roots in your spine. The most common cause of sciatic nerve root irritation? A herniated spinal disc. Other possible causes include: 

  • Degenerative spinal changes (i.e., lumbar stenosis)
  • A repetitive use injury (i.e., piriformis syndrome)
  • Osteoarthritis-related spinal damage (i.e., bone spurs)
  • Spinal imbalances caused by chronically poor posture

Sciatic nerve root irritation may begin as general lower back pain or discomfort, but it tends to progress into full-blown sciatica quickly. Whether it produces deep radiating pain, mild burning sensations, or a sharp, electric-like jolt, sciatica usually affects just one side of the body.  

Uncomfortable, disruptive, and debilitating 

While icing, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers, and performing gentle stretches can help ease mild sciatica, self-care measures don’t always stop the condition from progressing.  

The longer sciatica lingers, the more likely it is to worsen: You may develop severe or even disabling pain that radiates down the back of your leg, reaching into your calf or as far as your foot. You may also experience numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness that impairs your balance and restricts your mobility. 

A comprehensive approach to sciatica pain

Persistent sciatica can disrupt your sleep, limit your activities, and undermine your vitality. Physical therapy aims to undo this intricate web of dysfunction and pain, strand by strand, by taking a comprehensive, holistic approach to the problem that:  

  • Delivers effective symptom relief   
  • Promotes healing at the nerve root
  • Prevents future sciatica flare-ups

PT uses a multitude of simple yet highly effective techniques to enhance your core strength, improve your posture and flexibility, restore optimum space within your lumbar spine, and help take pressure off the sciatic nerve root. A typical PT plan for sciatica may include:

  • Extension and flexion back exercises 
  • Isometric and isotonic strength exercises
  • Gentle leg and whole-body stretches  
  • Active assisted range of motion stretches
  • Daily aerobic exercise to keep you active
  • Joint manipulation and mobilization
  • Massage therapy and myofascial release
  • Postural rehabilitation and gait training

While rest and activity modification may also be part of your PT plan, regular movement is key to optimal healing and recovery; for most people with sciatica, prolonged inactivity leads to worsening pain and deconditioning. Still, if ongoing pain makes it difficult for you to engage in consistent PT sessions, Dr. Okezie may prescribe a nerve block or other pain relief procedure to get you back on track with your movement plan.  

 With commitment to the process and adherence to your treatment plan, chances are you can expect a successful outcome — one that fosters healing in the lower back, restores pain-free, functional movement, prevents future pain flare-ups, and helps you avoid surgery.     

Find out how physical therapy can help you

Simply put, PT strengthens and mobilizes the tissues in your lower back, abdomen, pelvis, buttocks, and thighs, effectively correcting the structural imbalances that give rise to sciatica in the first place. 

If you’re ready to find out how PT can ease your sciatica, our team at Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates can help. Call your nearest office in Humble or Baytown, Texas today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie any time.