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How Physical Therapy Can Help with Sciatica

By Pauline Tran-Garcia, PT, DPT


What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a term used to describe pain, numbness, and/or tingling that radiates from the low back down the back of the leg and sometimes into the foot. The structure causing these symptoms is called the sciatic nerve which originates from the lower spine. Some individuals may not experience low back pain with leg symptoms. This condition can come in episodes and resolve on its own sometimes however, physical therapy can help reduce discomfort and provide a home program to prevent the return of such symptoms.


What causes sciatica?

The most common cause of sciatica is compression of the nerve roots that exit the spine by the disc or the bony space that the nerve root travels out of. The nerve root irritation can also cause the muscle called the piriformis to become tense and compress along the path the nerve travels through. In some cases of sciatica, the buttock could hurt more than the low back because of this.


How can physical therapy help?

Our skilled physical therapists at Fyzical Therapy and Balance Centers - Forest Grove can help create an individualized treatment plan including a custom exercise routine and in some cases, manual therapy. Manual therapy includes trigger point release, joint mobilizations/manipulations, and passive stretching. 


Why choose physical therapy first?

Getting treated in the first 14 days of low back pain makes the outcomes of therapy much better. In the state of Oregon, most insurances allow individuals to see a physical therapist without a doctor’s referral. A physical therapist can determine if the person needs to see a doctor either for imaging or evaluation. Imaging is not required to start physical therapy. 


Here are some solutions you can try to alleviate your pain.

  • Cold pack to the lower back: using a cold pack will reduce inflammation around the spine and potentially the areas where the nerve roots travel from. The reduced temperature also reduces the speed at which the nerves send pain signals to the brain temporarily. The numbing effect of the ice can be long enough for someone to try to fall asleep or after being active.
  • Sleeping positions
    • On back: propping a large pillow under the knees helps flatten the back
    • On sides: placing a pillow between knees to help reduce the curve in the spine
    • On stomach: placing a thin, soft pillow under the stomach
  • Avoid prolonged positions: sitting or standing for long periods may be aggravating to the low back, so try alternating positions every 30 minutes or taking short walking breaks


One of our physical therapists at Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers - Forest Grove would be happy to help you on your recovery and give you custom instructions on how to overcome sciatica. Contact us to get scheduled for an evaluation or consultation.

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Pauline Tran-Garcia, PT, DPT

Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.