Physiotherapy for Sciatica
People often ask for physio for sciatica relief once the pain becomes unbearable. If you experience moderate to severe pain, stiffness, weakness, and tingling (pins and needles) in your lower back, hip, leg or foot, you are a likely patient for sciatica physiotherapy. Before you can hardly move your hip and lower back, you may feel low to moderate pain. A deep, dull ache can also be a sign of sciatica. Sciatica pain can also occur suddenly or worsen in a matter of hours.
Self-help is possible, and many patients get better over time. However, if the condition produces electric-shock-like pain or has rendered you immobile, you may need immediate physiotherapy treatment for sciatica.
Physiotherapy for Sciatica Relief
Sciatica, also called lumbar radiculopathy, is a condition of a pinched or damaged nerve in the lumbar area of the spine. A herniated, bulged, or slipped lumbar disc is a common reason for sciatica. Other known reasons include spinal stenosis, spinal misalignment or osteoarthritis of the spinal vertebrae. But sciatica can also have more innocuous causes, such as an improper sitting posture (and long hours on the chair), wearing uncomfortable (high) heels, or poor lifting and bending techniques during work or sports.
While the pain running down the buttock and the back of the legs can be debilitating, it rarely produces chronic nerve damage. The pain is caused by inflammation, which can be successfully treated by a physiotherapist.
Your physiotherapist will first run a series of tests to reveal the sciatica cause, including:
- Exploring your medical history
- Spinal, orthopaedic, and neurological exam
- X-ray, CT or MRI scan
The physiotherapist will work on reducing pain and inflammation, strengthening weakened muscles and restoring movement. Best results are achieved with passive and active physio treatment for sciatica.
Physio for Sciatica Pain (Passive Physiotherapy)
If you are in pain or motionless, you are most likely to avoid any movement. Instead of actively participating in the treatment, you may prefer passive help. The physiotherapy for sciatica, in this case, can include over-the-counter medications, light stretching, deep tissue massage, ultrasound, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), and cold or hot packs.
Over-the-Counter Medications for Sciatica
Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Ketoprofen, and Naproxen Sodium can provide immediate sciatica relief by reducing pain and inflammation.
Deep Tissue Massage
Deep tissue massage is a type of physiotherapy that uses soft strokes and firm, gliding pressure to reach deep layers of muscles and fascia. It eases pain and tension in sore muscles and tissues and can improve limited mobility. This type of sciatica therapy is always best performed by a licensed physiotherapist who will use hands, elbows, fingers, knuckles, and palms to “untie” knots or rigid tissues in the painful area.
By gently heating the muscles and improving circulation, ultrasound waves can help decrease pain faster and reduce inflexibility, tension, cramping, and swelling.
Cold and Hot Packs
Start with ice bags wrapped in a soft towel to heal acute pain in the affected area. Move to hot packs – heating pads or a heat lamp – after a couple of days, and alternate hot and cold packs if the pain remains.
Physio Exercises for Sciatica (Active Physiotherapy)
The type of physio exercises for sciatica will depend on the cause of your condition. Exercises that stretch the piriformis muscle, the hamstrings, and the hop extension will alleviate lower back and leg pain.
Light Anti-sciatica Stretching
Examples of helpful sciatica exercises are:
- Pigeon pose (reclining, sitting and forward)
- Seated spinal stretch
- Knee hugs
- Standing hamstring stretch
- Cat/cow pose
You may want to remain inactive if severe pain persists. But bed rest is not recommended, as long as you can move within the pain constraints. Keep in mind there are movements to be avoided when suffering from sciatica.
Light muscle toning exercises performed underwater will help you strengthen the body in the sore areas, thus supporting the spine and the weakened muscles. Water aerobics and swimming usually don’t cause pain for patients with sciatica.
Adhering to ergonomics principles, active life and weight reduction is typically on the list of long-term help your physio clinic will recommend once the acute condition subdues. You will need to familiarise yourself with how your habits affect your body posture and develop new ones to prevent future issues.