If you suffer from sciatica, you know how excruciating it can be. But did you know that, often, you can treat sciatica with physical therapy?
Of the many non-invasive conservative therapies for treating sciatica, one of the most effective ones at your disposal is physical therapy. By using appropriate stretches and exercises, physical therapy can reduce and even eliminate much of the pain caused by sciatica.
The Science of Physical Therapy and Sciatica
A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine on ACP Journals from January 2021 found that “Referral from primary care to physical therapy for recent-onset sciatica improved disability and other outcomes compared with UC (usual care).” (1)
A study in the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal on Oxford Academic found that “Physical therapists should emphasize the use of joint mobility interventions and exercise when treating patients with sciatica …” (2)
A study from Ars Medica Tomitana on Sciendo found that “physical therapy programs are the first choice in terms of effectiveness and speed in reducing the painful symptoms.” (3)
How Does Physical Therapy Help Sciatica?
Physical therapy is one of the first types of conservative treatments implemented in cases of sciatica. Basically, physical therapy is used to safely increase strength and mobility. At the same time, it helps prevent further injury and helps manage or even eliminate existing pain.
The focus is on the tissues and muscles of the lower back, abdomen, pelvis, legs, and buttocks. The idea is to strengthen the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve (a nerve located near the base of the spine). Stronger muscles in that region will help relieve the impingement or pressure on the nerve that is causing the problem.
Physical therapy can reduce inflammation in the area around the nerve. This lessens the amount of dysfunction and pain the nerve might be causing. Also, physical therapy will also teach you, by establishing a home exercise program, how to maintain your health better and improve your posture. This will help keep the sciatica from returning.
How Long Does It Take for Sciatica To Go Away with Physical Therapy?
In general, the length of time it takes for sciatica to go away while using physical therapy will vary depending upon the ultimate cause of the issue as well as the particulars of the individual. Normally, it is not an instantaneous or quick fix – although it is possible to feel some relief almost immediately with the correct treatment. Most of the time, though, it takes several weeks to really eliminate the sciatica.
Be warned, though, that it is possible for the sciatica pain to become chronic as a result of some underlying ailment like spinal stenosis or other serious disease. In such cases, as of the time of this writing, such pain cannot be “cured,” only managed.
Of course, in less serious cases, there are a number of options for you to find sciatic nerve pain relief in minutes – some of them are of a longer duration than others.
How Often Should You Do PT for Sciatica?
There is no real easy answer to how often you should do physical therapy for your sciatica condition. It will be entirely dependent upon the particulars of your situation. It will likely vary depending upon both the root cause and your physical status or health level. If you are young and in good shape, you likely will need less PT than an older person who doesn’t get around as well as they used to.
Basically, if you want to know how often you should do your PT, you should ask your therapist. And follow his/her direction to the best of your ability..
As for how long your treatment will likely last, according to a study in The BMJ on June 21, 2007, “Consensus is that initial treatment is conservative for about 6-8 weeks.” (4) In other words, if your conservative sciatica treatment (like physical therapy or chiropractic care) fails to deliver results in six to eight weeks time, you may have to start looking at other options like surgery or what-have-you.
Is Exercise Or Rest Better for Sciatica?
The answer to this is somewhat qualified. Basically, standard treatment usually begins with 24 – 48 hours of rest. After that, it is generally recognized that you should start getting active. If you rest for too long, your condition will likely worsen. You need to stay active to keep your muscles from atrophying and causing additional problems.
So, if you’ve rested for two days without benefit, you will likely be steered toward a more active form of therapy like engaging in various PT exercises recommended by your physical therapist. These exercises can run the gamut from simple yoga stretches like the Cobra to more strenuous exercises like swimming.
Here’s a list of a few good yoga stretches and other kinds of stretches that should help your sciatica:
- Forward Pigeon Pose::
- Sitting Pigeon Pose
- Reclining Pigeon Pose
- The Piriformis Stretch
- And the Sitting Spinal Stretch
Of course, in addition to stretching, your physical therapist will likely recommend you incorporate a more active exercise routine into your life. Here’s a list of some recommended exercises:
- Water Aerobics
- And Foundation Training
After some time when your condition has progressed as far as it needs to, your physical therapist may add even more strenuous and more advanced exercises into your routine. These exercises may include:
- Bicycling (indoors or out)
- Elliptical machine
- And low impact aerobics
None of these are, by any means, exhaustive lists. Your physical therapist will be well-versed in a whole plethora of exercises that he/she can implement to help you on your road to recovery.
Signs You Need PT for Your Sciatica
Generally speaking, if you have sciatica, treatment usually begins with conservative therapies like physical therapy among others. Therefore, you should seek out a physical therapist if you have been diagnosed with sciatica or start developing any of its usual symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Pain in the hip, or leg
- Difficulty walking
- Tingling in the toes and/or feet
- Weakness/tingling/numbness in the buttocks or down your leg
- Shooting pain that traverses the back, buttock, and the back of either leg
- A sensation of burning in the lower back
If you suffer from any of these and they aren’t going away despite your efforts, you should seek out a professional medical opinion. You should first get the condition diagnosed by a physician or a chiropractor, and then seek out a physical therapist.
Should I Seek Physical Therapy or Chiropractic for Sciatica?
Generally speaking, physical therapy on its own can provide the following benefits to patients suffering from sciatica:
- Relieve and eliminate symptoms
- Help heal the root cause
- Keep the problem from returning
Physical therapy offers a variety of treatment options to provide said benefits. These options include active therapies like core strengthening exercises, stretching, yoga, and strength training as well as passive therapies like chiropractic massage and ultrasound.
However, one thing you might not know is that physical therapy as a whole is just one of several methods of treating sciatica. Another approach, one that bears special mention, is chiropractic care. The thing about using Chiropractic treatment for sciatica is that it is a powerful complement to physical therapy.
If you have sciatica, many times you can effectively treat the problem with either physical therapy or with chiropractic care. However, if you opt to use both types of therapy to treat your sciatica, the two will be far more effective then either one alone. It’s a case of a compounding effect where the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.
So, keep that in mind, should you find yourself looking for a sciatica treatment option.
Physical Therapy in Juneau
If you are looking for a physical therapist, you can start by checking with your chiropractor’s office..Many chiropractors have physical therapists on staff because of the close relationship between the two different fields.
Here at Better Health Alaska our highly recommended physical therapists are ready to help you treat your sciatica and get you back to living your best life.
As you no doubt know, sciatica can be a very painful problem. But don’t lose hope. There are many treatment options available. One of the most effective ways to address sciatica is with physical therapy. The right physical therapist can help effectively deal with this excruciating condition..