Sciatica is a common inflammatory pain emanating from the sciatic nerve. The nerve originates at the base of your spine and runs down each leg. Due to the relatively vast area covered by the nerve, pain can commence in different parts of the body for different individuals.
It can be a debilitating condition, but can it be helped by physiotherapy? Here we tackle that question and look at all the different ways physio can help. Let’s get started.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Although your symptoms may vary, generally sciatic pain can have the following indicators:
- Sharp pain in one (or rarely, both) legs with some discomfort and/or numbness
- Lower back pain (generally, this may be where the pain initially generates, moving down the leg with time)
- Pain or numbness in your buttock, hamstring, calf, or feet may also result from issues with the sciatic nerve.
- Weakness or tingling in your leg without pain
Diagnosis of Sciatica
Your physiotherapist will diagnose the condition, generally after conducting several physical tests and assessing your physical and genetic history.
Your physiotherapist might also need information about previous injuries, ailments, bowel movement or bladder problems, cancers, and weight history. This history helps rule out any serious triggers for sciatic pain, such as bone fractures, infections, or in rare cases, cancer.
Generally, you will not be required to undertake any detailed imaging tests. However, in some cases, when the pain persists beyond eight weeks, further assessments and evaluation might be required to double down on the underlying trigger for the pain.
Where Does Physiotherapy Come In?
In the early stages of sciatica treatment, your physiotherapist might focus on manual therapy to help you deal with the pain or discomfort.
Dry needling, nerve stretching, and spinal mobility exercises might help soothe the pain and eliminate any irritation or tingling. In most cases, these mild therapies will be sufficient to help you get rid of any pain or discomfort emanating from your sciatic nerve.
It will also be important for you to have a personalized rehabilitation regimen which your physiotherapist will generally assign and discuss with you after you have completed a few sessions and relieved most or all of your sciatic pain.
These follow-up routines ensure that the pain does not return after you complete the physiotherapy.
In most cases, there may be some lifestyle triggers that can become vital in driving sciatic issues. For patients to be able to keep these issues at bay for longer-term periods, it is important to identify and address these catalysts.
In some cases, you might continue to feel mild to moderate weakness or tingling in your leg even after the pain from sciatica has subsided. Although this weakness can gradually diminish, you might need a few extra sessions to restore your full mobility. This might be particularly important if you have a manual job or have to drive long distances as a normal part of your daily schedule.
What Does Physiotherapy Help You Achieve?
Generally, your physiotherapist will discuss these broad objectives with you before initiating the therapy, but if they don’t, you can always bring them up yourself:
- Relieve lower back, thigh, buttock, and/or leg pain
- Reduce muscle spasm
- Restore mobility of your legs
- Restore the primary functionality of your spine
- Identify triggers and lifestyle factors that can contribute to returning symptoms
- Create a long-term plan to deal with the sciatic issues, including a preventive regimen that reduces the odds of recurring pain
What Happens During Physiotherapy Sessions?
If you have been experiencing discomfort, weakness, tingling, or pain in your spine or lower body, it’s generally a good idea to pay a visit to your physiotherapist. This is especially true if the pain persists beyond a couple of days.
Although there might be a range of issues that can lead to pain or discomfort that you have been dealing with, sciatic issues can be a common issue.
Once your therapist has diagnosed that the problem is, in fact, with the sciatic nerve, they might assign and schedule personally tailored sessions to help you relieve the pain.
In these sessions, your therapist may utilize a range of therapies and exercises, including extension and flexion movements, strengthening movements, nerve and joint mobilizations, dry needling, and other therapies that may be more suited to your diagnosis.
After a couple of sessions, you should have been able to recover most of your mobility and relieve pain. However, if the pain or discomfort persists, you might need additional tests and assessments to better understand the underlying issues.
Even after you have been able to get rid of the pain, you will most likely be assigned a post-therapy care regime that should facilitate you in managing your sciatic issues in the longer term.
How to cure sciatica permanently?
For most cases of sciatica, physiotherapy combined with painkillers is more than sufficient to deal with and recover from the pain.
However, in some cases where pain persists despite consistent therapy and medication, you might be advised to consider surgery. In some extreme cases, patients lose control of their bladder and bowel movements, and surgery might be the only viable option available.
There are two kinds of surgery available to help you remove sciatic issues permanently, which are diskectomy and laminectomy. The former involves removing pressure from your sciatic nerve, which might originate from a herniated disk, bone spurs, or something else.
Laminectomy involves removing the lamina, a ring of bone covering your spinal cord. This is applicable when the lamina is the source of pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Can physio make sciatica worse?
No, physiotherapy will not make your sciatic issues worse. In fact, physiotherapy is one of the most common and best modes of treatment available for sciatica.
What to wear to physio for sciatica therapy?
Generally, your physiotherapist will tailor the therapy and movements according to your specific diagnosis. Therefore, it would be a good idea to make your wardrobe decisions that best suit the agenda for the session.
However, on your first visit, wearing loose clothing is a good idea. Also, as your physiotherapist might want to look at your pain points, clothing articles that are easy to remove should be worn.
If you’re struggling with sciatica, then physiotherapy can be hugely beneficial. Your physio will be able to work with you and come up with a plan to lead you on the road to recovery. With the help of an expert physio, you’ll soon be pain-free and have full mobility once again.