Overcoming Sciatica

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.

Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. It can also occur with the sciatic nerve is compressed under the piriformis muscles. Sometimes, dysfunction of the gluteus minimus muscle can mimic sciatica type symptoms as well.

Pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg is the hallmark of sciatica. You might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it’s especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf.

The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock.  It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms.  Some people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part.

Some movements and hat can be painful with sciatica include descending into a squat, deadlift, or lunge. In addition, prolonged sitting or pressure on the affected buttock may be painful.

In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from the aggravating activity. This allows for an environment for the inflammation to settle down and the nerve to heal. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.

In many cases, sciatica is correlated with poor mobility of the hip muscles and the lumbar spine. This can be combined with weakness of the core and gluteal muscles. In addition, if there are technique errors with exercise, this may lead to faulty spine mechanics. However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a complete assessment.

When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Improvements can be made very quickly if the right regions are targeted. If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to develop stability of the hips and spine with resistance exercise.

When addressed with a through physical therapy assessment and plan of care, sciatica is a condition that can resolve relatively quickly. However, ignoring symptoms and continuing with repetitive activity with poor mechanics can develop into a more serious issue. If you feel like you may be developing a sciatica problem, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to provide a through assessment and give you a diagnosis for your condition. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options. Call us at (864)558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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