Sciatica is an ailment in which pain radiates along the sciatic nerve. This nerve branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. In most cases, sciatica only affects one side of the body. While pain associated with sciatica can be severe, most times it resolves without the need for surgery. Pain can also vary widely, from mild to sharp, and can even be burning to excruciating. Some may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the muscles of the leg or foot.
Since sciatica has different symptoms for different people, it can be hard to be sure your pain is indeed caused by the sciatic nerve. It’s best to get a professional opinion to confirm if your back, hip or leg pain (or numbness) is being caused by sciatica.
In terms of physiotherapy, the exercises given to one person with leg pain may be the exact opposite of another. Choosing non-evidence informed treatment options or guessing at which exercises you think might help may actually aggravate your experience. Therefore, it’s best to visit your physiotherapist professional to help assess and advise on the best treatment options.
There are three broad categories for treatment that can be used in conjunction with your physical therapy, and your physiotherapist may suggest one or all of these exercise types to help get you back to your old self.
1. Strengthening Exercises
The strengthening exercises most likely to be recommended by your physiotherapist will be ones that focus on the lower back as well as the abdominal, gluteal, and hip regions. Strong muscles are more resilient to physical activities and will help support the spine and pelvis. The objective is to provide pain relief through doing simple muscle activation and movement exercises which can facilitate more comfortable spinal movements.
2. Stretching Exercises
Stretching exercises are common recommendations that can help alleviate sciatic pain. Sciatic specific stretching is only advised once the acute symptoms have subsided and should usually only involve unaffected areas. Often hamstring stretches are advised, but this can sometimes lead to worsening of symptoms due to the tension generated on the sciatica nerve. Doing gentle stretching through the hips and spinal column may help to decrease symptoms.
3. Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise
A good low-impact exercise regime will encourage the exchange of fluids and nutrients that can create a healing environment within the body. It will also help release endorphins which are natural pain killers that are released by the body during activity. Walking, swimming or some form of pool therapy will often be an important component of your healing journey.
Expect a Unique Treatment Regime
As there are various causes of sciatica, and everyone’s symptoms and pain levels vary, your treatment and exercise program will be unique to you. Your physiotherapist will take various factors into consideration, including your symptoms, the level of pain you are experiencing, and your level of conditioning.
Remember to be patient and kind to your body. You may need to build up to a certain number of reps over time. Patience in healing is important, and it may take up to six weeks to see results, so it’s important not to get frustrated by the process. It’s also important if you are in pain, or a specific movement causes pain, to stop the exercise and alert your physiotherapist. It’s advisable not to start exercises for the first time during an acute back pain episode.
It’s critical to the healing process that you do not stop exercising when and if the pain diminishes or you feel “healed”. Stick with your exercises and sessions until you and your physiotherapist have had time to touch base and reassess the situation and to discuss a long-term game plan to help ensure the pain does not reoccur.If you’ve experienced back pain or believe you may be suffering from sciatica and need our help to bounce back, give us a call for a consultation today. Proper diagnosis and treatment are key to making a full recovery. We’ll work hard so you can get back to your day to day life as quickly as possible.