What Is the Best Sciatica Treatment?
Are you suffering from sciatica and looking for proven results to help decrease your symptoms and get you back to living your life? Or maybe you are wondering if what you have is even “sciatica”? Either way you are in the right place because we are going to cover everything from sciatica symptoms to the best ways to treat sciatica.
What Is Sciaitica?
Technically, sciatica is irritation of the sciatic nerve which runs down the back of your thigh and into your calf. The sciatic nerve originates from the spine where many nerve roots come together to form this robust nerve. It then travels through your buttocks and down into your leg.
Many people come to see us complaining of sciatic pain that is going down the front of their leg. Although there are other nerves that run down the front of your leg, true sciatica only runs down the back of your leg. Why? Because that’s where the sciatic nerve is.
Do you have more questions on the true cause of your leg pain? Then I recommend you check out our blog post on Why Do I Have Shooting Pains In My Legs? This will give you more tools to see if what you are suffering from is truly sciatica.
Sciatica symptoms can vary from a mild ache to a sharp, burning pain. You may also be suffering from numbness, weakness, or tingling into the leg and foot. You may find that your pain increases with prolonged sitting, standing, coughing, sneezing, twisting or while lifting. These different symptoms actually help us to diagnose the root cause of your sciatic pain.
Is Bed Rest Recommended for Sciatica?
Absolutely not! Please read and hear this point.
Previously, bed rest was recommended as the best way to treat sciatica. But, the evidence is clear at this point. You need to keep moving in order to help eliminate your sciatic pain.
Every tissue in your body is designed to heal itself as long as it is moving properly. This includes the sciatic nerve (well, all nerves but we are talking about sciatica here!). The nerve, and whatever is putting pressure on the nerve, needs proper movement in order to heal.
Now, here at Physical Therapy for everyBODY, we DO recommend that you avoid movements that increase your pain. When your pain is increasing, your body is not allowed to move properly. This can actually aggravate your symptoms and end up making you feel even worse. So, it’s very important to keep your body moving in motions that are pain free – or at a minimum do not INCREASE your symptoms.
Does Physical Therapy Work for Sciatica?
Absolutely YES! You need to be working with a Specialist who truly understands sciatica, your symptoms, and your goals. You see, there can be many different root causes of your sciatic pain. You need to have a complete evaluation to find the root cause so it can be addressed correctly.
Every body is different and every sciatica story is different. You need a Specialist Physical Therapist (like we have here at PT4EB) to help you identify what is going on with your body and your specific sciatica.
There are two main steps involved in your healing journey:
The first step involves decreasing stress on the sciatic nerve. First, you need help in identifying where your specific symptoms are stemming from. We call this finding the root of your symptoms. Something is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve which is causing it to become angry and irritated. This pressure needs to be eliminated so the sciatic nerve can calm down.
The second step is improving your strength and flexibility so the sciatic nerve does not get angry and irritated again. This may involve working on your low back, hips, legs, or all of the above. Again, once the root cause has been found we can assess what led to your sciatic pain. There are exercises and stretches that can be easily added to your daily routine to prevent these symptoms from ever returning.
And, don’t worry, we won’t give you pages of exercises that take forever and don’t cause real change with your symptoms. We will customize a program that specifically works for your problem and educate you on why these are important for your symptoms and prevention.
Are There Any Exercises I Can Start Doing Right Now?
Although we don’t like to generalize people’s problems, there are two exercises that do seem to be very helpful for people with sciatica symptoms. As with any exercise we recommend you do them carefully and make sure that your pain does not increase while you are doing these exercises. You should never have increased pain while doing any therapeutic exercise. If you find these to be aggravating, we encourage you to book a Free Discovery Visit with one of our Specialists to learn more about why these are aggravating for your body.
Prone press ups – This exercise help to decrease the tension in your low back which can take pressure off the sciatic nerve. Make sure to be gentle with this motion to ensure that your back is okay with moving this way.
Start by lying on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, face looking toward the floor. Gently start pushing your upper body up until you are propped on your elbows (in a sphinx type pose). Hold this position for 10 seconds before resting back down on the ground. Rest for 10 seconds before performing this exercise again. Do 5-10 reps each session.
Nerve gliding – This exercise helps to free up the sciatic nerve if it is stuck anywhere along the way through the low back, buttocks, or leg. Start by lying on your stomach on you bed with the affected foot resting on the floor, knee bent. Then slowly straighten your leg keeping your foot on the floor. Re-bend your knee. Perform this gliding or flossing motion 10-20 times each session.
Does Heat or Ice Work Better for Sciatica?
ICE is NICE! Ice will help to decrease inflammation and is a powerful pain inhibitor. It’s like taking pain medication without having the side effects in your gut. You only need to ice for 5 minutes each session which means that you can ice every hour to keep the pain at bay.
And, yes, you can ice for 20 minutes if you are comfortable and prefer to stay in that position. We recommend 5 minutes because that is what the research indicates is needed for the maximum amount of pain relief.
Can I Ever Get Rid of My Sciatic Pain (and keep it gone for good)?
YES! You can eliminate your sciatic symptoms for good and even prevent them from coming back. We had one patient, we will call him George, who had sciatic symptoms so bad that he couldn’t even walk down a hallway without excruciating pain.
And, his daughter was getting married in 6 weeks! George certainly needed to walk her down the aisle and he didn’t want to use a cane or anything.
For George, we figured out that his sciatic symptoms were starting from a herniated disc in his low back but he also had hip and leg tightness that was further aggravating his symptoms. The first 6 weeks we worked on improving his low back motion to decrease pressure on the disc and also decrease the tension in his leg.
George did indeed walk his daughter down the aisle without any pain or sciatic symptoms! And, when he got back home, he had a new goal - to be able to play golf again. George had given up golf years ago due to his low back pain and sciatic symptoms. Playing golf required more motion in his low back and increased strength through his hips.
You can imagine how happy we were to see a picture of George back on the golf course and doing the activities that he loved again.
Is My Posture Aggravating My Sciatic Symptoms?
Many people find they have increased symptoms after prolonged sitting. This is often due to increased forward bending in the spine as well as sitting for too long at one time. It’s important to not sit for longer than 60 minutes at one time.
If you have questions on your sitting posture, check out our blog on What’s The Best Way To Sit With Low Back Pain. This will help you to find the best sitting posture for your body.
If you have questions regarding your sciatic symptoms, we encourage you to book a Discovery Visit with one of our Specialist Physical Therapists. We will hear your story and journey with your sciatic pain. We can then decide if we are the best fit to help you get back to the activities you love. Simply click here to schedule that Discovery Visit and get all of your sciatic questions answered.