Sciatica is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. This pain can be debilitating and impact your quality of life.
The good news is that physiotherapy can help with pain and improve mobility. Here we’ll look at exactly how physiotherapy can help while also recommending some stretches you can try and how. Let’s start by looking at the cause of sciatica.
What Causes Sciatica?
There are a few different ways you can get sciatica, each of which will require its own treatment approach. Due to this, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor if you think you have sciatica. Let’s look at the three main causes.
Slipped Disk – It occurs when the soft, gel-like centre of a disk pushes out through a crack in the harder exterior. This can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing pain.
Spinal Stenosis – Spinal stenosis results from the narrowing of the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This can also cause pain in the lower back and legs.
Muscle Or Ligament Strain – It occurs when the spine-supporting muscles or ligaments are stretched or torn. This is the more common cause of sciatica in younger people.
There can be other causes too such as spondylolisthesis or even diabetes. Extremely rarely, sciatica may be caused by a tumour pressing on the nerve.
Will Physiotherapy Help Sciatica?
Almost certainly, physiotherapy help sciatica with the help of symptoms of sciatica. Exactly how much it will help and how quickly can depend on a wide variety of factors. The main one is the cause of the sciatica.
For example, you may need further treatment if you have a severely slipped disc. In extreme circumstances, you may need surgery. In this example, physiotherapy will help with the symptoms, but other approaches will also be needed.
For the most common cases of slipped disc and other issues such as muscle strains, physiotherapy on its own can quickly restore you back to full health. However, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor, just in case it’s a more serious issue.
While seeing a doctor is advised, waiting lists can be frustratingly long if you are referred to physiotherapy. Due to this, it can be a good idea to book a physiotherapy session straight away, so all bases are covered.
Treatment Options for Sciatica
A physiotherapist may look at a few treatment options for sciatica, along with treatments you can do yourself at home. Let’s see what they are.
Manual therapy is a great way to treat sciatica pain without surgery or needles. The therapist will use their hands to massage and move your muscles and joints to help reduce the pain.
Different types of manual therapy can help treat sciatica, including:
Soft Tissue Mobilization – The therapist will use their hands to rub and press on the muscles and tissues in your lower back and legs. This helps to reduce pain and inflammation.
Joint Mobilization – The therapist gently moves your lower back and leg joints to improve the range of motion and reduce stiffness.
Spinal Manipulation – The therapist will use their hands to give your spine a quick and controlled force. This helps realign your spine and reduce pain.
Other Treatment Options
These methods use different tools and techniques to reduce pain and improve function in sciatica patients.
Heat Therapy – Heat therapy can help relax the lower back and leg muscles, reducing pain. You can use a heating pad, a hot water bottle, or a warm bath to apply heat to the affected area.
Cold Therapy – Cold therapy can also help reduce inflammation and numb the area. Use an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas, or a cold gel pack to apply cold to the painful area.
TENS – TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It uses small electric pulses to stimulate the nerve and reduce pain. A TENS machine is a small device you can use at home to improve pain.
Ultrasound – Ultrasound uses sound waves to create heat and help reduce pain and inflammation. A therapist will use a machine to apply the ultrasound to the affected area.
Exercises For Sciatica
Exercises are a key component of physiotherapy for sciatica. They can help to reduce pain and increase strength and flexibility. The physiotherapist may recommend one or multiple exercises to improve posture. The exercises will depend on the condition of the patient.
Stretching the muscles in the lower back and legs can help to relieve pain caused by sciatica. A good stretch for the lower back is the knee-to-chest stretch. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee to your chest and hold it there for 15-30 seconds. Repeat the same with the other leg.
Tightness in the hamstring muscles can also cause sciatic pain. You can avoid this through the hamstring stretch. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Slowly lean forward, reaching towards your toes. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then release.
Strengthening the muscles in the lower back and legs can help to support the spine and reduce the risk of sciatica. One exercise you can try is the pelvic tilt. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles and press your lower back into the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then release.
Yoga can be an effective way to improve flexibility and strength, which can help to relieve pain caused by sciatica. There are several yoga poses that can be beneficial, such as the Child’s Pose and Downward-Facing Dog.
Follow these steps to practice the child’s pose:
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Sit back on your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you.
- Rest your forehead on the ground and relax your entire body.
- Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, then release.
Follow these steps to practice the downward-facing dog:
- Put your wrists under your shoulder and knees under your hips like the Child’s pose.
- Tuck your toes and lift your hips towards the ceiling.
- Straighten your arms and legs and press your heels towards the ground.
- Relax your head and neck and hold the position for 15-30 seconds.
It’s important to remember that these exercises are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, you must consult a doctor or physiotherapist. They will provide a diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Sciatica can be a debilitating condition that affects your quality of life. Physiotherapy help sciatica also physiotherapy thankfully offer an effective treatment for sciatica. It helps to reduce pain and improve overall function.
However, it’s important not to self-diagnose sciatica as your pain may either be caused by an underlying issue, or something else entirely.