Those with sciatica will know how frustrating and painful this condition can be. The term refers to any pain that travels along the sciatic nerve, and this can cause pain that often starts in the lower back and then travels down one of your legs.
However, it’s important not to self-diagnose as your pain may be caused by another condition. If you are struggling with sciatica, then a physiotherapist can help. Here we’ll take a look at the treatment options available and how physio can reduce your pain. Read on to find out more!
Table of Contents
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a painful condition in which the patient experiences pain in the lower back and leg due to an underlying problem related to the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and provides motor function to the lower leg muscles, calf muscles, foot muscles, and hamstrings. It also provides sensation to the lateral and posterior lower leg and the plantar foot.
Sciatic pain may arise from a herniated spinal disk or overgrowth of bones. It may worsen with twisting, flexion, bending, or coughing.
- A sharp pain through your legs from the pelvic area
- The pain may feel like a sudden electric shock
- Numbness or discomfort in one leg
- Tingling or feeling of weakness
- Lower back pain
- Coughing, sneezing, or prolonged postures increase the intensity of pain
Can Physiotherapy Help with Sciatica?
In the past, surgery was often seen as the best solution for sciatic pain. However, physiotherapy has proved to be highly beneficial in improving sciatica and avoiding the need for an operation.
Your physiotherapist will ask you questions about the condition and review your records. Taking presenting symptoms and history into account enables the therapist to understand your situation.
Furthermore, they may ask you to perform simple motions to observe the physical condition. It lets them evaluate your posture, movement, and range of motion.
After the initial assessment, they will look at physical movements and exercises to reduce pain. They might change a few exercises depending if they benefit you or not. You will find it challenging initially, but your physiotherapist will assist you.
While your therapist will try their best to provide you with the best treatment, it is important to remember that physiotherapy is not a quick fix, it will take time but you will gradually feel improvement.
Best Physiotherapy for Sciatica
Physiotherapists use various exercises and techniques to improve the quality of life of their patients. They may or may not work equally well for everyone so don’t worry when your physiotherapist tries a few different techniques to find the one most suitable for you. Here are the treatments they may look at.
Cryotherapy refers to the use of cold packs to relieve pain. Ice helps reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Make sure not to apply ice packs directly to the skin but your physio will give you advice on the best way to try this treatment yourself.
Thermotherapy uses heat to improve blood circulation. Heat therapy leads to a decrease in pain and an increase in flexibility due to improved circulation. Your physiotherapist may recommend taking a warm bath or using heating pads on the affected area.
Myofascial Release and Soft Tissue Massage
Therapists use their hands to apply friction and pressure to the pain area to release tissue tension. It is among the best physiotherapy techniques for sciatica. Sometimes, these tissues compress the sciatic nerve or other connected nerves. The physiotherapist mobilizes the legs, hips, or lower back tissues for improved pain management.
Muscle Energy Technique
The muscle energy technique also uses physical strength and movement to relieve pain. The patient performs gentle muscle contractions while the physiotherapist facilitates the motion. The muscle energy technique is widely used to restore muscle function and reduce pain.
Ultrasound helps reduce stress and irritation of nerves through sound waves that travel into your muscle tissues. These sound waves contribute to heat generation in the muscles, improving circulation and healing. They may also help with stiffness, swelling, pain, and spasms.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, is another similar technique to reduce muscle spasms by using electric current to stimulate your muscles. It helps reduce muscle spasms by increasing the body’s endorphin production. The TENS unit can be used at home.
Besides other techniques and exercises that reduce pain, strengthening exercises help build muscle to prevent sciatica. Patients experiencing slight sciatic pain may be suggested strengthening exercises to improve core and back muscles. Exercising regularly can speed recovery and reduce the chances of reoccurrence.
Interferential Therapy, or IFT, is an electrotherapy used to manage pain. It is extensively applied in sciatic pain management to improve symptoms in sciatica patients. Two electrodes are placed on the legs while the other two are connected at the nerve roots.
The electrodes produce a current that travels to the damaged body tissues. It improves the body’s response to pain by increasing circulation. The interferential current boosts blood circulation and reduces swelling. These intermittent pulses also block the pain signal, indirectly leading to improvement.
Supportive Aids for Physiotherapy
Your physiotherapist might recommend supportive aids along with therapy to relieve pressure and improve pain management. Some of the most common aids in sciatica physiotherapy include:
- Sleeping pillow
- Foam rolling
- Leg elevation pillow
- McKenzie lumbar roll
- Sleeping pillow
- Back brace
Before spending money on these items, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your physiotherapist about whether or not they’d recommend them.
Sciatica refers to the pain in the lower back and leg due to the pathophysiology of the sciatic nerve. It may also lead to tingling, irritation, or numbness in the leg and feet. Physiotherapists apply different techniques for sciatic pain relief.
The right approach for your pain will be decided after having an assessment with a physiotherapist. If you believe you’re suffering from sciatic pain, then make sure you speak to a doctor and then book in to see a physiotherapist. With the right combination of treatments, you’ll soon see improvement.