Say No to Sciatica! 3 Indicators That You Need to See a Physical Therapist

We all have two sciatic nerves running from either side of the lower back down to each of our legs. A classic sign of sciatica is a shooting pain along the path of the nerve on one side only. While compression of one of your sciatic nerves can literally be a “pain in the butt,” it doesn’t always require medical attention. Yet sometimes, physical therapy is your best bet to banish sciatica symptoms. So how can you tell when to go it alone, and when to call a Body Gears PT physical therapist?

1. If Home Treatments Aren’t Working

There are plenty of things you can do at home to ease a mild sciatica flare-up. Alternating cold and heat is a classic treatment for sciatica symptoms. Use an ice pack, followed by a heating pad, for about 15 minutes per application. Sleeping with a pillow between or under your legs can also help. If you can’t get comfortable during the day or at night, try a reclining chair to redirect the pressure from your lower back. Going for walks often helps ease sciatica pain, because “babying” your condition can actually make it worse.

While these methods may help with mild sciatica, there are times when a physical therapy session is a far better strategy. One sign that you should consult a physical therapist is if your home treatments are having little or no effect in reducing the pain and restricted motion. Another sign is if the symptoms persist for longer than a week. Of course, worsening pain is the most important sign that physical therapy is needed.

2. When Sciatica Symptoms Become Severe

If your sciatic nerve becomes seriously compressed, the resulting symptoms can go from uncomfortable to quite painful – and even embarrassing. You may become weak and numb on one side. Sometimes, even getting your leg or foot to move becomes impossible. If the pain hits you suddenly, and with great intensity, it’s time to visit a physical therapist to begin easing the pain.

Another telltale sign? People will sometimes mistake neural tension for hamstrings tightness. If you’ve been stretching your hamstrings with no change in symptoms, worsening symptoms, or feel like you can barely tolerate a hamstrings stretch, it’s a good idea to have a physical therapist determine whether that tightness is actually coming from sciatic nerve compression.

3. If the Pain Follows an Injury

Mild sciatica can build up over time, and it may even go away on its own. But when you have an onset of classic sciatica symptoms following a car accident, serious fall or sports injury, contact a doctor and a physical therapist. The symptoms are more likely to be severe because of the greater impact on the area surrounding the sciatic nerve. It’s important to determine the severity of nerve damage. Your medical team needs to evaluate the need for surgery, injections or prescription drugs.

Of course, even if your injury requires more aggressive treatment, physical therapy is often recommended as part of the recovery plan. If necessary, your physical therapist will help you with surgical pre- and rehab to maximize your outcome. Physical therapy can also help to extend the benefits of your injections and sciatica medication.

For many people with persistent or severe sciatica, physical therapy can be a lifeline. You’re taught moves that strengthen and support your lower back. Increasing range of motion at the hips is also part of physical therapy for sciatica. Strong muscles will protect the area around your sciatic nerve and can prevent future injuries. You also work on improving your posture to keep sciatica symptoms at bay.

Contact us today at one of our 6 Illinois offices to speak with an experienced physical therapist about how to manage – and even banish – painful sciatica flare-ups.

Written by: Dr. Julia Melanson, PT, DPT

Edited by: April Oury, PT, MSPT, IOC, CFMT, FAAOMPT, Founder

As always, none of this information replaces the expertise of a Licensed Physical Therapist. Most states allow direct access to physical therapy without a prescription, so if you are experiencing any pain, it is best to seek evaluation so that you can properly prepare based off of your specific needs.

Give us a call at (877) 709-1090 for more information or fill out the contact us form and we will contact you.

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