Sciatica Frequently Asked Questions | Physical Therapy for everyBODY
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Sciatica Frequently Asked Questions

Sciatica Faqs

Answering all your FAQ’s…and maybe a few you didn’t even think to ask!

Are you tired of searching the interweb to learn more about your sciatica? And, even more importantly, what you can DO about your sciatic symptoms?

We get it! That is why we have compiled our most asked questions about sciatica. Today, we will put all the questions (and answers!) in one place.

That way you won’t have to keep searching and reading and fearing that you have some horrible disease that is going to kill you in a matter of months. Oh, is that only us? Moving on…

What Triggers Sciaitica?

There are two main triggers of sciatica symptoms. Most sciatica symptoms are caused by either a herniated disc or a crazy tight piriformis muscle.

You see, the sciatic nerve starts in your low back. While in the spine, a disc that has gotten too big for it’s britches can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This may cause symptoms in your low back or running all the way down the back of your leg.

After the sciatic nerve leaves your low back, it heads into your buttocks (is it just me or do you hear Forrest Gump saying that in your head every time you read it?) and travels through the piriformis. If the piriformis is tight, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This can cause pain from the buttocks and down the back of the leg.

If you are wondering if you are suffering from sciatic or piriformis syndrome, you can read more about that here.

What’s The Difference Between Sciatica and SI Joint Pain?

During you research you may have heard about SI joint pain. Or, your friends may have said “You have an SIJ problem!”. The SI (sacroiliac) joint is located in your way low back, next to your hip. It’s the joint that connects the hip bone to the back bone.

SI joint pain is characterized by sharp pain in your low, low back. The pain usually occurs when you are bending, twisting, lifting, or stepping up with one leg. Over time, this pain may turn to a dull ache as the SI joint continues to get aggravated. The pain usually starts very specifically.

Now, the piriformis muscle we just talked about crosses the SI joint. So, if your SI joint gets aggravated then your piriformis muscle might get tight and this may cause sciatic symptoms. It really is all connected.

What Is The Cause of Sciatica?

Sciatica is caused by an irritation of or compression to the sciatic nerve. This can happen in the low back through a disc herniation. Or it can be due to a tightening of the piriformis muscle that causes increased compression on the sciatic nerve. Occasionally the nerve can get trapped on the outside of the knee. This will usually only cause symptoms in your lower leg and into your foot.

What Does Sciatica Feel Like?

Most people who are experiencing sciatica for the first time describe an electric shock sensation that travels from their low back or buttocks region and down the back of the leg. Over time, the pain may spread further up or down the leg. The symptoms may change to become more of a dull achy sensation that is constantly nagging at you.

You may also be experiencing numbness and tingling in your low back, buttocks, or down the back of your leg. As the symptoms progress you may also start to experience these sensations into your foot. If your symptoms last more than 72 hours, it is time to get help from a Specialist who can clearly determine what is going on and create the best path to treatment.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sciatica?

The symptoms of sciatica can change over time. You may be experiencing an electrical shock type pain that starts in your low back or buttocks region. You may also have symptoms into the back of the leg and even into the foot.

Over time, you may start to feel the symptoms change to a constant, dull ache. You may even start to experience numbness and tingling from the low back and into the foot.

An important word of caution here – if you start to experience a loss of bowel or bladder function then you need to see a doctor immediately. Loss of bowel and bladder function is a medical emergency.

How Long Does It Take For Sciatica To Go Away?

The truth is – it depends on what caused your symptoms in the first place. If your symptoms started due to a herniated disc that is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve then your symptoms may not resolve completely for 3-6 weeks.

If your symptoms are due to increased tension in the piriformis muscle then your symptoms will start to get better as soon as you decrease tension to the piriformis. Please note, a massage will not be enough to effectively eliminate the tension in the piriformis. You may also have an alignment issue that needs to be addressed in order to keep tension off the piriformis. Think of it like your car, if you are driving around with poor alignment then your tires will not wear equally. The piriformis is like the tires and if you don’t have proper alignment then there is no way the piriformis can stay loose.

Perhaps your symptoms are in your lower leg and foot. In this case, the sciatic nerve is probably getting pinched by the bones that make up the knee. Proper movement needs to be restored to this area before the sciatic nerve can start to heal.

What Is The Best Way To Relieve Sciatica?

The best way to relieve sciatica is to find the root cause through a specific evaluation with a Specialist Physical Therapist and then follow a plan to address that root cause. If you would like to hear more about how we do that here at Physical Therapy for everyBODY, then we encourage you to sign up for one of our Free Discovery Visits. During this visit we will learn more about your sciatica pain journey and discuss the next best steps for you to eliminate your sciatica pain.

How Do I Get My Sciatic Nerve To Stop Hurting?

If you are looking for something that you can do RIGHT NOW to decrease your sciatic symptoms then we recommend you put an ice pack on your low back or hip. Put the ice pack at the root of the pain for 5 minutes. This will help to give you some relief in the short term. And, since it’s only 5 minutes, then you can use the ice every hour.

Does Sciatica Go Away On It’s Own?

This is a tricky question. You see, the SYMPTOMS of sciatica may go away after 72 hours but that doesn’t mean that the CAUSE of the pain went away. The situation may resolve itself enough that you no longer experience the sciatica symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that the root issue that started those symptoms in the first place has gone away.

That is why it is so important to get a complete evaluation from a Specialist Physical Therapist who can help determine the root cause of your symptoms and create the best path for your body to heal. If your body does not heal completely from your first episode of sciatica, it is more likely to return and be more difficult to treat.

If you have struggled for years with off and on sciatica symptoms why not find out more about how we can deal with the root of this issue and eliminate it – for good! If you are ready to learn more about our Specialist approach to sciatica, then we encourage you to sign up for a Free Discovery Visit.

Is Walking Good For Sciatica?

This is another tricky question. Many people feel better and have decreased symptoms after walking. But, if you walk “too far” this can actually increase your symptoms.

Where is the sweet spot? We recommend that you start by walking ¼ of your pre-symptom distance. So, if you usually walked 4 miles daily prior to your symptoms starting then we recommend you start with 1 mile. If your symptoms decrease after the 1 mile walk, you can add .25-.5 each day.

And, what if you weren’t walking regularly before your symptoms? Then we recommend you start with ¼ of a mile for your first walk. Make sure your symptoms do not increase and then you can add ¼ of a mile per day.

Walking actually helps to improve healing of the spinal discs and decreases tension to the hip muscles. So, it is usually fantastic for you if you suffer from sciatica.

What Should You Not Do With Sciatica?

If you are suffering with sciatic type symptoms then we recommend you avoid holding a forward bent position for long periods of time, any pivoting type motions where one leg is planted and not moving, and any motion that aggravates symptoms. It is important to find positions that decrease your symptoms to allow time for the nerve to heal.

Should I See A Chiropractor or Physical Therapist For Sciatica?

The answer to that is – it depends. What are you looking for? If you are looking for immediate relief then chiropractors are well known for that. You will usually walk out of their office feeling great.

However, if what you are looking for is a long term solution to your problem so you can return to all the things you love doing, then we recommend seeing a Specialist Physical Therapist. We can help you to determine the root of your sciatica pain as well as give you long term solutions. So you can get back to living the life you love and deserve.

If you are ready to eliminate your sciatica symptoms for good and never have to deal with this problem again, then we encourage you to sign up for a Free Discovery Visit. You deserve to live life on your terms.

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Dr. Amy Konvalin

Struggling with pain and dysfunction can impact every part of our lives — it drains our energy, distracts us from our goals, and keeps us from the people and activities we love. As an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Dr. Amy Konvalin understands how frustrating those limitations can be — and she knows how to help get you back to the life you want to live! Beginning with a focused evaluation, Dr. Amy works to determine the root causes of your pain, as well as understanding how it affects the way you move through your world. Dysfunctional patterns of movement often grow worse with time and cause further damage if left untreated — so it’s important to address these issues as soon as possible. Dr. Amy knows there is no one-size-fits-all plan for success, and she partners with patients to identify their unique treatment goals and personal values. Using these goals as a guide, Amy uses her doctorate training in manual (hands-on) therapy and exercise prescription to treat patients with a wide variety of medical challenges and histories throughout the Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Covington areas. Dr. Amy is also a wife to a Boeing superstar/former C-130 navigator. While they lived in Germany, Dr. Amy was able to volunteer with the US Army to treat military personnel and civilians on base. She has two beautiful teenage ballerinas who keep her on her toes and educate her on all things ballet! Bailey, the princess pup, is her running partner and her napping partner. In the spare moments in between, Amy enjoys reading, yoga, wine with friends, Pilates, and walking on the beach.
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