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Sciatica: What Is It and How to Relieve the Pain

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a condition that can cause pain, tingling, and numbness in the lower back and legs. Sciatica is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down to each leg. The most common symptoms of sciatica are pain in the low back, buttocks, and legs. In some cases, people may also experience tingling or numbness. Sciatica can be treated with physical therapy, over-the-counter medications, and exercises.

For chronic sciatica, surgery can be avoided if you are consistent with non surgical treatment. Some exercises that can help relieve sciatic pain include stretching and strengthening the muscles in the low back, buttocks, and legs. Sciatica can be prevented by maintaining good posture, exercising regularly, and avoiding activities that put unnecessary stress on the spine. If you experience any symptoms of sciatica, it is important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.


Sciatica is a condition that causes pain, tingling and numbness in the lower back and legs. Sciatic nerve compression or irritation is usually caused by a herniated disc (also known as a slipped disc) in the lumbar region of your spine. When this happens, it puts pressure on the nerve root. This causes referred pain. Depending on the severity it can impact strength, sensation, pain, and reflexes. This can lead to impairments in your ability to squat, lift, and carry heavy objects.

Sciatica is usually made worse by sitting or forward bending. We often hear people tell us that a long car or airplane ride is what sets it off. Sciatica can also be caused by other conditions like degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.


Below is a great video that illustrates what happens in the spine that can cause sciatica.



What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Sciatic pain usually starts gradually but can also occur acutely. The most common symptom is a dull ache that radiates from your low back or buttock down your leg. Sciatic pain often gets worse when you sit or stand for long periods of time. You might have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your leg as well. These symptoms can make it hard to walk, go up and down stairs, or even sleep at night. Sciatic nerve pain can range from mild to so severe that it limits your mobility.


If you think you might have sciatica, it’s important to see your doctor or physical therapist for a proper diagnosis. Sciatic pain is often confused with other conditions like piriformis syndrome, which has similar symptoms but is caused by a different problem. A correct diagnosis is important so you can get the best treatment possible.


How to relieve sciatica pain

There are a number of different ways to treat sciatica. The most important thing is to find what works best for you and stick with it. Sciatic nerve pain can be treated with physical therapy, over-the-counter medications, and exercises. The exercises that you will do will largely be based on what is called directional preference. This is the movement pattern that centralizes and relieves your pain. Your physical therapist can help you to figure out this direction and teach you which movements to avoid.

Treatment options for Sciatica

If Sciatic pain is mild, it can often be treated at home with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. If Sciatic pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication or refer you to physical therapy. If Sciatic pain is very severe and does not respond to other treatments, surgery may be an option. The best treatment course for sciatica is typically nonsurgical management and can usually be resolved with a course of physical therapy.


Exercises For Sciatica

Exercises for sciatica often include extension-based movements such as the prone press up or prone hip extension. This can reduce the pressure on the nerve from the disc. Other exercises that can be helpful are decompression of the spine. This can be accomplished in many ways including hanging from a pull-up bar, inversion tables, and using resistance bands to apply a traction force. Before doing any self-treatment, it's very important to know what you are treating as these could cause further injury to certain types of injuries.


Preventing Sciatica and Low Back Pain

The best way to avoid sciatic pain is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep your spine healthy. This includes regular exercise, healthy and balanced diet, and avoiding sustained postures and positions that cause injury to the lumbar spine.

Generally, the more active, strong, and flexible you are, the less likely you are to have low back pain.

A healthy and balanced diet can help to reduce the overall level of inflammation, improve the health of bones, and joints, and increase muscle mass. All of these factors together will lead to improved health of the spine.

Avoid sitting in poor postures for long periods. If you are working at a computer all day be sure to set your station up for success. Here are a couple of keys we look for.

  • Top of monitor is even with eye level

  • Seated all the way at the back of the chair so the low back is supported

  • Feet resting on the floor with knees bent to 90°

  • Arms resting comfortably by your sides


One of the best things that you can do is work with a PT or ergonomist to help you get your work desk set up.

Sciatic nerve pain can be a real pain in the butt. But by following these tips, you can help to prevent it from happening in the first place or at least minimize the symptoms if it does. Sciatica is common, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through the pain.


Come and see us if you have any of these symptoms so that we can get you diagnosed and treated immediately.




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