Sensing some low back pain that travels down your leg? Could it be sciatica or something else? Back pain or even the fear of back pain is debilitating and can stop someone from being active or even perform the daily functional activities. If the pain you’re feeling starts from your low back and radiates down your leg, chances are you could be dealing with sciatica. But the only way to figure that out is through a professional diagnosis from your medical doctor. If it’s confirmed that it’s sciatica, keep reading, because this post is for you!
Your sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body that runs from your lower back all the way down to your feet. Sciatica can be caused by different things, but the most common cause of Sciatica is compression of the sciatic nerve itself by a herniated disc! Fun fact, the sciatic nerve holds the nerve roots of L4, L5, S1, S2, & S3 which all innervate the muscles from the low back all the way down to your feet.
Some other causes of sciatica include but not limited to:
• Spinal stenosis (basically your spinal cord is being compressed from the narrowing spaces within your spine)
• Nerve entrapment from your piriformis muscle (the muscle in your buttock could compress that nerve)
• Inflammation and swelling from arthritis or muscles sprains in the buttock area
• Pregnancy: due to increased volume in the spine during the late stages of pregnancy, the space holding the spinal cord may narrow and cause compression on the nerves
People report pain from sciatic nerve (aka sciatica) as pain shooting from the lower back through their hips, buttocks, and down either their left or right leg. Pain varies from achy to sharp pain. On top of that, some can also experience numbness/tingling and/or weakness on the affected leg.
Sciatica is just a symptom from an underlying medical condition and therefore, it is important to direct the treatment to the specific cause rather than just masking the pain with different treatments. Consulting a physical therapist will give you the best results for treating it. I know you might be thinking, “why a physical therapist and not a medical doctor?”
A physical therapist performs a medical history interview and physical exam to cater an intervention specifically to you and how your case presents. Cool, right? They perform several provocation tests, muscle strength tests, range of motion examinations, etc. to hone on the true cause of your sciatica. Once they get down to the root of the problem, they can effectively treat you and alleviate the symptoms!
Because sciatica is common, there are some stretches and exercises that physical therapists recommend targeting the muscles around the sciatic nerve. These include:
• Hamstring stretches 3 sets of 10-30 second holds
• Knee to chest stretches 3 sets of 10-30 second holds
• Posterior Pelvic Tilt (lying on your back) 3 sets of 8-10 reps
• Bird Dogs (start with opposite arm and leg combo before doing same side!) 3 sets of 10-12 reps
• Glute bridges 3 sets of 10 reps
As previously stated, sciatica is different for everybody so LISTEN to your body and see what works better for you when performing these exercises (that’s why going to a physical therapist is best J). Exercising through pain is not going to get you any better, it might just make it worse.
Living with sciatica can limit you from your day to day life and fun activities. Going to physical therapy can help you find that relief by targeting the source of what is causing your symptoms. Physical therapists create individualized treatment plans including strengthening exercises, stretches, and even include modalities to target certain muscles! If you’re ready to face your sciatic nerve pain head on, contact your physical therapist today and get back to your active lifestyle!