Back pain is a topic that gets a whole lot of traction.
In the media and pop culture, it’s frequently portrayed as an inevitable symptom of aging.
In fact, you might even remember seeing back pain portrayed in some of your favourite childhood television shows.
This trope generally plays out through a storyline that inflicts some sort of back pain or injury onto a (typically) middle aged or older character.
The injury often occurs after the character in question attempts to perform a physical activity they used to do in their youth, such as dancing or playing a contact sport.
While this trope might seem like an exaggeration, you might be surprised to learn just how accurate this representation can be.
The truth is that back pain is something many people will deal with at some point in their lives.
This is, in part, due to your spine.
Your spine is made up of numerous delicate nerves and joints that support your back.
Life puts a lot of strain on these delicate nerves and joints, and back pain or related spinal issues often feels like an inevitable result, with most adults experiencing it at some point in their lives.
If you’re looking for treatment for you back pain, we, ahem, have your back at Capitol Physical Therapy, a Washington DC physical therapy clinic.
Back pain can be caused by a variety of issues, but today we’re going to talk about one of the most common causes: sciatica.
Sciatica is a type of lower back pain that radiates into the legs, and can cause pain, discomfort, and reduced mobility.
In this article we’re going to talk about what sciatica is, what causes it, and how physical therapy treatment for pain management can help if you’re suffering from it.
What Is Sciatica?
To understand what sciatica is, we should start by discussing the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body.
It starts at the base of your spine and branches off through your buttocks, hips, and down each leg.
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Because of its size and location, pressure or pinching of the nerve can lead to significant pain that radiates from your back down into your legs.
This pain is called sciatica.
It generally affects one side of the body more than the other, and it can be caused by a variety of factors that we’ll discuss further later on.
Depending on what’s causing the issue in the first place, the treatment options available vary.
In some cases, sciatica goes away on its own without treatment, however it may reoccur later.
In most cases, physical therapy is the ideal solution to help with sciatica recovery.
A 2020 research paper written by Fritz et al. found that early physical therapy intervention can help increase your chances of long term recovery from sciatica.
Rarely, surgery is necessary to correct the underlying issue.
If you think you may be experiencing sciatica, speak to a physical therapist at Capitol Physical Therapy as soon as possible to prevent your chances of experiencing long term pain and complications.
Symptoms Of Sciatica
Sciatica is characterized by pain, discomfort, or numbness along the pathway of the sciatic nerve.
Because of the size of the sciatic nerve and the different ways that it can become irritated, the symptoms of sciatica can vary widely between individuals.
The discomfort can appear anywhere from the lower back to the calf, with pain that radiates along the back side of the leg from the lower back being a typical symptom.
The intensity and quality of the pain can also vary widely between cases.
Sciatica pain can feel like a mild ache but can also present as a sharp or burning pain along the path of the sciatic nerve.
In some cases, the pain can even feel like a jolt or electric shock.
The pain is also often accompanied by some level of numbness, weakness, or tingling in the affected limb or in the back or buttocks.
The severity of the symptoms can also vary widely.
For instance, the pain experienced may only present as minor discomfort.
In severe cases, the pain can significantly impact your daily activities and even make it extremely difficult to walk.
The good news is there’s help available to help you get back to your most mobile self.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is caused by pressure on or irritation to the sciatic nerve.
Because of the location of the nerve, sitting down for extended periods of time can worsen pain.
Some other common causes of sciatica include:
- Spinal stenosis, a disorder that occurs when there isn’t enough space in the backbone
- Piriformis syndrome, a pain disorder occurring in a muscle in the buttocks
- Pelvic injury or fracture
- Spondylolisthesis, a condition which causes spine instability
A physical therapist can help to treat all these issues as well as help reduce sciatica symptoms and prevent future flare ups.
The appropriate physical therapy approach depends on what’s causing the pressure on the nerve.
There are also a number of factors that increase the risk of sciatica by putting extra strain on the sciatic nerve or the disks of the spine.
The most common risk factor for sciatica is simply age related spinal degeneration.
Aging is unavoidable, but the sciatica symptoms that can come along with it can often be managed or eliminated altogether.
Obesity can also increase the risk of sciatica by putting more pressure on the joints of the spine and increasing the risk of disk problems that can put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
According to a 2014 research paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, obesity plays a major role in the development of sciatica, regardless of your gender.
Another risk factor for sciatica is occupation.
Any occupation that involves prolonged sitting, twisting, or lifting can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and lead to pain over time.
Physical Therapy Treatments For Sciatica
Like other treatment options, the goal with physical therapy for sciatica is to facilitate healing and relieve the pain that sciatica can cause.
Physical therapy takes time to work, but has many advantages especially compared to surgical options for sciatica relief.
By improving strength in the areas surrounding the sciatic nerve in a safe and supervised way, physical therapy can both reduce pain and help to prevent future flare ups.
The physical therapy treatments available for sciatica are primarily divided into two types.
Passive physical therapy is primarily to relax muscles that may be causing pain and facilitate healing.
This can be done through a variety of methods, including:
- Manual therapy
- Hot and cold therapies
- Electrical stimulation
- Dry needling for sciatica pain
- And much more
Active physical therapy involves participation and movement to strengthen, stretch, and mobilize the body for better healing.
Hydrotherapy, a type of active physical therapy that uses the resistance of water to help build strength and aerobic conditioning, can also be a good option if sciatica pain interferes with weight bearing movements.
Many physical therapy treatments will work with some combination of active and passive physical therapy, as well as at home exercises to help get you back to feeling your best.
Finding ways to keep moving safely and as comfortably as possible can be a helpful part of a healthy and active recovery from sciatica pain.
Book Your Appointment With Capitol Physical Therapy Today
Back pain can be difficult to deal with, especially when it affects mobility.
Being active is an important part of living a healthy and happy life, which can make obstacles to physical activity feel difficult to work around.
If you’re suffering from sciatica pain, you don’t have to deal with it alone.
At Capitol Physical Therapy we’re committed to helping you get back to your pain free life.
Book your appointment today to work with a physical therapist and find treatment options that suit your needs and meet you where you are.
Book your appointment with Capitol Physical Therapy today to find out more about how we can help you live a pain free life.
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005
9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC