Sciatica Treatments | Treatments for Sciatica
Sciatica is a back condition in which lower back pain and leg pain may occur as symptoms of compression of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve begins in the lumbar spine and is combines from the spinal nerves L4 through S3. This nerve runs from the level of L4 in the lumbar spine and travels all the way through leg to the foot. When this nerve is compressed, patients may experience pain in and around the area of nerve compression, and sometimes along the entire sciatic nerve. In addition to pain, related neurologic symptoms may occur along the sciatic nerve, such as numbness, weakness, and difficulty moving the foot of the affected leg. Here is a brief list of the available treatments for sciatica.
Sciatica Treatments: Treatments for sciatica may include those to control the symptoms during flare-ups of the condition as well as rehabilitative programs to prevent acute cases in the future. Certain back exercises and leg exercises may help to relieve pain and protect the sciatic nerve from compression related pain in the future. In other cases, regular exercise will not be sufficient to keep the nerve condition from worsening, and more invasive treatments, such as surgery, may be considered.
This section of our site details both surgical and non-surgical treatments for sciatica. The treatment program that you and your doctor choose to address your condition may be affected by several factors, including the severity of your symptoms, your types of symptoms, and how long you have been suffering from this condition.
Non-surgical Sciatica Treatments: non-surgical treatments include exercise programs to decompress the sciatic nerve, medications to reduce inflammation, manipulative therapies, alternative therapies (e.g. acupuncture), and massage therapy.
Sciatica Exercises and Physical Therapy: Conservative treatment programs to get outbreaks of this condition under control include some combination of treatments to reduce inflammation around the sciatic nerve and specific exercises to prevent the sciatic nerve from becoming irritated in the future. Physical therapy exercises will be specific to the section of the sciatic nerve that has been affected and the cause of the condition. The conditioning of the lower body accomplished by these exercises should improve conditioning to prevent future occurrences of pain related to the compression of the sciatic nerve.
While the natural instinct of the human body is to stop moving and exercising in response to pain, in reality further deconditioning of the body is more likely to make your symptoms worse. Beyond a few days of rest, you should become involved in some type of general active lifestyle or a specific rehabilitative program designed by a doctor and physical therapist.
All sciatica exercise programs will include:
Specific Diagnosis: Before doctors create a specialized exercise program for you, they must accurately diagnose the cause of your condition. The exercises that you will perform will be specific to the cause of your sciatica. Some of the most common causes of this condition include spinal stenosis and lumbar herniated discs. Treatment programs that are based on mis-diagnoses may have the effect of exacerbating sciatica pain, so it will be important that your doctor knows what is exactly causing your pain before proceeding with a treatment program.
Core muscle strength: Regardless of whether or not you have a spinal deformity or conditions such as herniated discs or lumbar spinal stenosis, it is likely that there will be room for improvement in your overall core strength. Core strength refers to the strength of your abdominal muscles and back muscles. Pain may occur when the muscles around the sciatic nerve are tight, inflexible, or weak. When patients begin and continue exercises to improve strength and flexibility in these muscles, the flare-ups of this condition are shorter and less severe, and the flare-ups become less frequent over time. Core muscles that are targeted during these exercises include the Obliques or Rotators (paraspinal (side) muscles), Flexors (abdominal and iliopsoas muscles), and Extensors (back and gluteal muscles).
Stretching exercises include the knee to chest stretch, back flexion stretch, piriformis muscle stretch, and hip stretch.
Knee to chest stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent and the soles of both feet on the floor. Next put both hands behind one knee and pull that leg up and close to your body. Hold that position after bringing the knee close to your body. Repeat this stretch with both legs.
Back Flexion Exercise: When lying on your back, grab the front of each leg just below the knee. Use your hands and legs to flex the legs as close as you can to the core of your body, while also flexing your head forward. Hold this position after you feel a comfortable stretch from this position.
Hip and Gluteus Muscles: The muscles in the hips and buttocks support the lower back. Exercises that stretch these muscles will increase flexibility in the lower back.
Piriformis Muscle Stretch: The piriformis muscle runs through the buttock and is positioned very close to the sciatic nerve. To stretch this muscle, grab the back of one knee, with both hands. Bring the other leg across your body until it rests in front of the knee of the opposite leg. Next, use your hands to bring the leg it is holding up and closer to your body. This will stretch the piriformis muscle in the opposite leg.