Pain that travels through the sciatic nerve from the lower back into the leg, sciatica can also cause tingling, numbness, and weakness. The pain generally appears on one side and is worsened by sitting, though standing and walking can also be challenging.
Sciatica is not a medical condition, but is a symptom of another condition such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease. Therefore, it is important to diagnose and treat the underlying condition. However, physical therapy can also ease the pain of sciatica and reduce future flareups. Here is what you need to know.
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is a broad field that focuses on the prevention, treatment, and maintenance of physical disabilities. A physical therapist is an expert in anatomy and kinesiology, or the science of movement. Physical therapists have a nuanced understanding of how all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints work together. They use this knowledge, along with detailed patient assessments, to put together highly customized treatment plans.
Despite the customized nature of physical therapy, however, every treatment plan has the same basic goals: to restore functionality, strength, and flexibility, and to manage or alleviate pain. All physical therapy exercises fall into three overall categories. Recovery from sciatica typically requires exercises from all three categories.
When the lower back is damaged, the muscles around it tighten up in a protective posture. This renders them tight and inflexible, setting off an ever-worsening cycle of pain and tightening. Gentle stretching exercises help to stop this cycle by lengthening the muscles and reducing the pain.
The muscles of the lower back and core are vital to supporting the spine and allowing free movement of the body. Therefore, they must be in top condition to reduce pain and minimize the risk of further injury. Strengthening exercises for sciatica prepare the core to support the body and protect the spine without tightening.
Aerobic exercise helps to boost healing, while releasing endorphins that reduce pain. Yet high-impact aerobic exercises can aggravate sciatica. Instead, your physical therapist will recommend low-impact aerobic exercises that provide benefits without making your condition worse. Examples include tai chi, yoga, and swimming. You may even undergo a course of water therapy, in which you work out in a pool, reducing the strain on your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
Sciatica occurs when pain runs the sciatic nerve. It can range from annoying to excruciating, and can limit your daily activities. It is not a medical condition on its own, and care must be taken to diagnose and treat the underlying condition that is causing the sciatica. In the meantime, though, physical therapy can dramatically reduce the pain and other symptoms caused by sciatica. You will need to fully participate in your treatment exercises, both in the office and at home. Physical therapy is an active, collaborative process, and the harder you work, the more benefits you will achieve.
If you are in the market for a customized, innovative approach to physical therapy, please call Raritan Physical Therapy at (732) 662-4400 to schedule your initial assessment.