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How to treat sciatica: What you can do & what physical therapists can do to help you

3 minutes, 48 seconds

Sciatica is a condition that affects up to 40% of the population at some point in their lives. It can seriously affect someone’s daily life by causing numbness, burning sensations and more. If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica, keep reading for more information on the causes of sciatica, symptoms, risk factors and how physical therapy can help treat it.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica results when the nerve running through the body called the sciatic nerve becomes irritated or compressed.

What might cause the sciatic nerve to become inflamed or pinched?

There are several different health conditions that can lead a sciatic nerve to become inflamed or pinched. If you and your care provider haven’t yet determined what the cause of your sciatica may be, take a look at some of the potential causes below:

  • Herniated disc — Herniated discs are one of the most common causes of sciatica. They occur when the nucleus of the spinal discs ruptures through its casing and presses up against the nerve.
  • Bone spur — Bone spurs are small pieces of extra bone growth that occur on bones. These extra growths can sometimes press on the nerves and cause nerve pain or damage, like in the case of sciatica.
  • Tumor or cyst — In cases when a person develops a tumor or cyst, the growth may develop in an area where the sciatic nerve runs through and compress the nerve.
  • Torn ligament or tendon — Sometimes a torn ligament or tendon can also press on the sciatic nerve.

What are some of the top risk factors that might lead someone to develop sciatica?

  • Being overweight — Excess body weight can place unnecessary stress on the spine and eventually leave to nerve compression.
  • Certain health conditions — Certain health conditions, like diabetes, might put someone at a higher risk of developing sciatic nerve pain.
  • Strenuous activity — Someone who regularly performs strenuous activities is more at risk of developing sciatic nerve pain.
  • Being an older adult — Older adults are more likely to experience degenerative spine conditions that may contribute to sciatic nerve pain.
  • Not being active enough — Not getting enough movement each day can also increase the chances of developing this condition.

What are some general symptoms of sciatica?

  • Weakness in the legs, feet or lower back.
  • Loss of feeling in the legs or feet.
  • Trouble walking or moving the lower limbs.
  • Significant pain in the lower limbs or lower back.

What are some common treatment methods for sciatica?

  • Physical therapy — If you’re not sure how to treat your sciatica, consult with someone who does, like a physical therapist. Physical therapy is one of the top recommended treatment methods for sciatica. 
  • Anti-inflammatory medication — Anti-inflammatory medication can be a helpful short-term pain-relieving option for some people. IT can help alleviate pain and inflammation for a few hours at a time, especially when symptoms become really bothersome.
  • Corticosteroid injections — Corticosteroid injections may temporarily relieve some of the inflammation around an irritated sciatic nerve. However, they eventually wear off, and there are a limited number of times you can receive this type of injection in one area.
  • Ice and heat therapy — Ice packs or heat packs may help reduce some of the pain and inflammation associated with sciatic nerve pain.
  • Surgery — For more extreme cases where sciatic symptoms don’t respond to the more conservative treatments listed above, surgery may be recommended.

How can physical therapy help treat sciatica?

  • Release tension and pressure on the nerve — Physical therapists are trained to know how to manually reduce tension in the muscles and minimize pressure around the area of the compressed nerve. A physical therapist may be able to reduce the severity of a patient’s sciatica by releasing some of the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Reduce inflammation — Physical therapists are also knowledgeable in how to reduce swelling and inflammation around an area that has become irritated. Treating inflammation associated with sciatic nerve pain may improve a patient's symptoms.
  • Provide long-term pain relief — PT is one of the treatment methods that is more likely to provide a sciatica patient with long-term relief. The effects can last several weeks, months and even years if treatment is pursued consistently. 

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch physical therapists who know how to treat sciatica

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that has extensive knowledge of how to treat sciatica. Don’t let your sciatic nerve pain get the best of you. Take a moment to reach out to us. We’d be happy to provide you with more information on the benefits of physical therapy. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!


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