How Does Physical Therapy Help Relieve Sciatica?

It’s common for your spine doctor to refer to you to physical therapy as part of a sciatica treatment plan. Going to therapy usually involves both active and passive therapies. Passive therapy encompasses treatments that your physical therapist administers, like heat or cold packs, and active therapy requires your active participation like therapeutic exercises.

Why Physical Therapy Benefits People with Sciatica

Therapy, done correctly, can help to reduce your pain and inflammation levels. It can also prevent your symptoms from recurring and improve your physical function. Additionally, this therapy program can teach you how to improve your posture. They usually send exercise programs home that is approved for long-term use to improve your health too.

What to Expect with Physical Therapy for Sciatica

During your first appointment, your therapist will go over your lifestyle habits, medical history, and ask you questions about your sciatica. They might ask you when your symptoms started, if a specific event or injury triggered your symptoms, and ask about your activity levels before your leg and low back pain started.

The therapist may then ask you to go through a series of simple movements to evaluate your posture, range of motion, movement ability, and reflexes. They could ask you to flex forward, move side-to-side, twist, or extend backward. They’ll see how you walk too. This will give the therapist a baseline assessment of your condition and how the pain impacts your ability to perform daily functions.

Finally, your physical therapist will take what they learned from your evaluation and put together a targeted program for you. This active and passive therapy program features a host of realistic goals that you’ll strive to reach. As your leg and back pain goes away or gets easier to manage, they can adjust your therapy plan to include different types of exercises and stretches.

It’s very important to note that this isn’t a quick fix. You could go to your sessions for several weeks to get the results you want. The treatment plan usually has several clinical visits with your therapist. They’ll also put together an at-home exercise program for you to follow between visits.

Physical Therapy and Exercise Goals for Treating Sciatica

Exercise and therapy can help mobilize and strengthen your tissues in the lower portion of your back, abdomen, pelvis, thighs, and buttocks. The overreaching goal of exercise and physical therapy for sciatica is to help treat the symptoms and signs you experience, including:

  • Reduce muscle spasms
  • Relieve buttock, lower back, leg, and thigh pain
  • Restore functional movement patterns with no pain
  • Improve lower back mobility
  • Restore lumbar spine and sacroiliac joint function
  • Prevent future flareups and reduce the fear of certain movements
  • Create a better healing environment for your lower back

Frequency and commitment are important to getting good results when you use exercise and physical therapy for this type of pain. Therapy could get combined with pain-relieving treatments. Popular additions include epidural steroid injections and prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Exercise and Physical Therapy Techniques for Sciatica Treatment

Your physical therapist can prescribe a host of manual, physical, and soft tissue mobilization or exercise therapies to help treat your sciatica. How specific the exercises get depends on what the underlying cause of your sciatica is. Other factors can also contribute, like your overall conditioning, your level of pain, and the therapist’s experience or training. Common techniques include but are not limited to:

  • Active Assisted Range of Motion – This includes therapist-assisted movement to areas of your lower body like the legs and hips. This can help encourage specific joint or muscle movements that can cause pain.
  • Functional Retraining – Your therapist will reintroduce movements like carrying, lifting, squatting, or bending. They’ll encourage healthy movement patterns with proper techniques to help prevent you from injuring yourself again or experiencing pain.
  • Gait Training – The therapist will analyze how you walk and retain you in correct gain patterns. They could perform a video analysis during this session too.
  • Isometric Exercises – These exercises have you contract your muscles without moving your joints. You could do a bridge hold or plank for this exercise. They can help strengthen your muscles when you have more acute symptoms.
  • Isotonic Exercises – These exercises including contracting your muscles to resist a constant load like weight training or a resistance band. It helps increase your muscle strength using constant resistance to a specific set of motions.
  • Joint Manipulation – This is a manual technique where your therapist will apply a thrust force in a quick movement at the joint’s end range of motion to restore normal movement. This motion can also reduce pain levels.
  • Joint Mobilization – This is another manual therapy technique where your physical therapist will apply pressure to your joint. This pressure will mobilize it to produce the desired therapeutic effect.
  • Muscle Energy Technique – During this exercise, you’ll perform a series of gentle muscle contractions while the therapist moves your painful joints through a set range of motion. This can help restore function while reducing your pain levels.
  • Nerve Glides – Better known as nerve mobilization, you’ll use the passive and active technique on the asymptomatic nerve to put it out of and into tension. This reduces your symptoms while facilitating movement.
  • Strengthening Exercises – This therapy includes resistance and bodyweight exercises to help strengthen your low back, abdominal, leg, and hip muscles.

Contact Florida Spine Associates for Physical Therapy for Sciatica

If you have sciatica and would like to know more about using physical therapy to treat your symptoms, contact us. We’re happy to set up a consultation to discuss your options and see if you could benefit from appointments.