Sciatica is one of the most common types of pain affecting up to 40% of people at some point during their life. This condition often becomes more frequent in older adults. Chronic back pain sufferers tend to be more susceptible to sciatica, as well as those who are obese, sedentary or smoke.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica often gets placed in the same category as regular back pain; however, it is different. The pain originates in the body’s two largest nerves, the sciatic nerves. These nerves travel from the lower spine, through the buttocks, down the back of each leg and to the feet. Sciatica occurs when the root of the nerve becomes pinched or irritated and pain can be felt at any point along the nerve branch.
What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
Sciatic pain symptoms can vary greatly between people and between each individual episode. Some of the common symptoms of sciatica include:
- A dull aching pain
- Electric shock sensations
- Stabbing pain
- A burning sensation
The severity of pain can vary from a mild ache to intense pain that makes it difficult to stand or walk.
What is the Physiotherapy Treatment for Sciatica?
Because sciatica is caused by pressure on or irritation of the sciatic nerve, it makes sense to remove this pressure or reduce what is triggering the sensitivity. Physio for sciatica aims to achieve this by reducing muscle tension and mobilising stiff joints that are causing the irritation. Physio for sciatica is based on four important steps:
Step One – Reduce Pain and Provide Protection
Pain relief is the first thing to focus on when seeking treatment for sciatica. As well as this, reducing inflammation is important. Although inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, excessive inflammation can be the cause of sciatica.
Step Two – Restoring Strength, Flexibility and Normal Posture
Once the pain and inflammation have settled, it’s time to restore normal function. This includes restoring normal resting muscle tension, range of motion of the spinal joints, posture and muscle flexibility. This may include manual therapy and a variety of exercises that your physio will develop.
Step Three – Restoring Full Function and Control
In this stage, a physiotherapist will begin rehabilitation to allow the patient to return to normal activities. As each patient will have different goals, each rehabilitation program will vary depending on individual needs.
Step Four – Prevention
Sciatica often returns when rehabilitation hasn’t been completed properly. This step involves fine-tuning strength and mobility while teaching the patient self-management techniques that reduce the risk of a recurrence.
How Long Will Sciatica Take to Heal?
Sciatica symptoms usually ease after a period of rest whilst avoiding aggravating activities. Although each patient is different, in general around 90% of sufferers recover within six weeks.
What Are Some Sciatica Exercises for Pain Relief?
Strengthening and stretching exercises each day can help with sciatica symptom flare-ups. With physio support the following exercises may help:
- Lie on your back with knees bent and pull both knees to chest. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then rest and repeat 5-10 times.
- Just like the exercise above, but with individual legs, one knee first and then the other
- Lie on your back with knees bent, stretch arms out to the side. Gently roll your knees side to side. Hold for 5-10 seconds, rest and repeat 5-10 times.
Sciatica can be very painful and interfere with normal activities. However, it’s rare for permanent damage to occur, and the majority of pain is due to inflammation which improves over time. Physio for sciatica aims to reduce this inflammation, while improving strength, flexibility and posture problems that are causing the symptoms. You can find out more about treating sciatica by contacting your local Perth Physio.