Understanding Sciatica: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Do you struggle with sciatica? You’re not alone. In fact, it’s a problem that affects many people. But the good news is that there are effective solutions to help you overcome this challenge. In this post, we’ll discuss exactly how to resolve sciatica once and for all.

What Causes Sciatica?

Did you know that the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body? It is as wide as your thumb. It makes sense that if the sciatic nerve was under compression and inflamed then this would cause significant distress. The sciatic nerve runs from the low back and pelvis through the back of the hip and can in some people actually pierce through the piriformis muscle.

It is areas of compression such as this pathway through the piriformis muscle that can cause the sciatic nerve to become irritated. Another area in which the sciatic nerve can be compressed and cause pain is between some of the low back vertebrae. The sciatic nerve communicates with many muscles in the lower body, but it supplies sensory innervation to the lower leg and foot. This is where you will experience pain if you are suffering from sciatica.

How Does a Physiotherapist Treat Sciatica?

The physiotherapist will treat your sciatica by performing an in-depth whole-body assessment to determine not only the exact location of the symptoms but the cause of the problem. The physiotherapist will then compose a treatment plan to resolve the symptoms and the root cause, in order to achieve a lasting and meaningful change.

The treatments may vary session by session, but they will often include a mix of manual therapy to reduce joint tension and muscle stiffness, exercise to improve strength and treat dysfunctional compensation patterns, and education about the symptoms and the cause of sciatica. Often times the physiotherapist will include supplementary modalities such as acupuncture, taping, or cupping.

How Many Physiotherapy Sessions Will I Need for Sciatica?

The number of treatments needed to resolve your sciatica depends on a few factors. These factors include age, previous injuries, comorbidities such as diabetes, and physical activity level. 

Most patients feel Improvement within the first one to three visits, and the entirety of the treatment plan will last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on your history and goals. Typical treatment plans start with a higher frequency of visits tapering off to fewer visits as the patient improves and becomes more independent with their care.

Is Physio or Massage Better for Sciatica?

The preference for physiotherapy or massage therapy for sciatica depends on the patient’s injury history and the root cause. This will be determined through a thorough assessment by the therapist. Combining both the expertise of a physiotherapist and a massage therapist in your treatment plan leads to better outcomes. 

What Relaxes the Sciatic Nerve?

The issue with the sciatic nerve when someone is suffering from sciatica is a combination of local inflammation stemming from dysfunctional movement patterns and tissue irritation and compression on the nerve. 

The investigation into the cause of these two problems happens during the initial assessment, and the resolution of these happens during the treatment plan. By addressing these two causes we reduce tension on the sciatic nerve, which reduces the symptoms and improves your overall function.

Can Sciatica Be Cured by Exercise?

The type of physiotherapy intervention will be based on the assessment performed by the physiotherapist. However, exercise is a  significant component of the treatment plan for the resolution of sciatica.

What Exercises Should I Avoid With Sciatica?

In the early stages of suffering from sciatica, you will want to avoid exercises that aggravate the inflammation or compression around the sciatic nerve. This includes exercises that add pressure to the low back such as loaded compound lifts in the gym (i.e. deadlifts), squats, abdominal crunches, or activities that involve twisting.

What Is the Most Successful Treatment for Sciatica?

The most successful treatment of sciatica is an individualized treatment plan based on a comprehensive assessment, performed by a trained bodyworker such as a physiotherapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist. The best outcomes occur when multiple therapists from different disciplines are involved to co-treat on the same case. 

Combining the expertise of therapists from multiple disciplines leads to superior outcomes time after time. The best results come from a treatment that includes a mix of passive treatments such as manual therapy to the joints and muscles, and other modalities such as acupuncture, taping, and cupping,  combined with active therapy including functional exercise and rehabilitation programs.

An Effective Treatment Process for Sciatica

A treatment plan that is focused on the individual’s needs, and working towards your goals and milestones is the best approach to physiotherapy care to treat sciatica. A comprehensive assessment will be performed to determine the cause of the sciatic pain. a treatment plan will then be put together to resolve each of the contributing factors that led to the development of the sciatica. 

Session by session and week by week these contributing factors will be addressed until the sciatica has resolved and the second stage of the treatment plan can be implemented. The focus of the second stage of the treatment plan is to rehabilitate the affected body segments including muscles and joints, In order to help you reach your functional goals and live a meaningful life.

How Long Does the Treatment Last?

The duration of the treatment plan can vary and depends on past medical history and comorbidities. However typical treatment plans may range anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months. Typically pain relief is experienced within the first one to three sessions with the remainder of the treatment plan focused on treating the root cause to make sure that the sciatica does not recur in the future, and that you are working towards meaningful life goals and experiencing changes in your activities and functional ability.  

What Will the Treatment Process Include?

Once a comprehensive assessment has taken place to determine the root cause of the sciatica and the cause of the symptoms. physiotherapy treatment will take place. Physiotherapy treatment will include manual therapy to improve blood flow in the muscles, improve muscle activation in weak muscles, improve mobility and stiff back segments, and reduce inflammation. 

Physiotherapy treatment will also include a prescription of exercises to help reverse the dysfunctional compensation patterns that your body has been undergoing that have been a contributing factor to the development of the sciatica. 

This will typically involve exercises to strengthen the core and hips, improve mobility in the back and hips, and any other area that is relevant to your specific case of sciatica including potentially the knee and the foot.  As you undergo physiotherapy treatment for sciatica you may notice that along with the reduction in pain, you’re moving with more ease and walking with less pain and more ease. 

As you experience these changes in your body throughout the treatment plan you will notice that your quality of life improves as well, as you’re able to return to the activities that are meaningful to you, and experience pain less frequently and less severely. Other potential treatments for sciatica include acupuncture, kinesio-taping, cupping, and education about the cause of sciatica and the reason for your symptoms.

Corrective Exercises for Sciatica

Corrective exercises for the resolution of sciatica are an important component of the physiotherapy treatment plan. corrective exercises will be targeted to the individual, based on a comprehensive Physiotherapy assessment. Common exercises prescribed by your physiotherapist to treat your sciatica will be ones that improve mobility and blood flow to the low back joints, the low back muscles and improve mobility in your hips and knees and ankles. 

The physiotherapy exercises prescribed to treat your sciatica will aim to correct your overall posture to take pressure off the nerve, strengthen weak muscles such as the core hips and feet, improve your posture and change the way that you move. We recommend that you do not perform any of these exercises until you have had an assessment performed by a physiotherapist. 

Common exercises prescribed to treat sciatica include a sloppy push-up also known as a cobra exercise, a bird dog exercise to strengthen your core and back, hip flexor stretches to improve the strength in your glutes and reduce tension on the hips and restored neutral pelvic position, and hip strengthening exercises such as Bridges to improve the strength and function of your hips. These exercises should be gentle and provoke either no pain or very minimal discomfort. 

Collaborative Care At Body Science Therapy

At Body Science Therapy, we have consistently found that patients who undergo treatment with more than one practitioner from a different discipline experience very high levels of success. For example, Physiotherapy treatment alone is very effective for the treatment of sciatica. However, if a patient undergoing physiotherapy treatment for sciatica also incorporates treatments with a chiropractor or massage therapist the effects are very positive. 

When a patient incorporates multidisciplinary care, each discipline can use their particular skill set, and when we combine those skillsets based on an individualized assessment and treatment plan approach, the patient gets the best of each approach.

Final Words

The time to take control of your health is now. Every day that you wait is another day away from the meaningful activities in your life. At Body Science Therapy we’re here to help you turn things around and achieve the results you’ve been looking for. Book your appointment today and let’s get started.