By Dr. Pete Stucchi
ApexNetwork Physical Therapy
Do you sometimes or often have pain or numbness that travels from the low back, through the buttock and into the leg?
If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of Americans will experience sciatica in their lifetimes.
Although sciatica is most common in people age 30 to 50, seniors and teens can also experience the condition. Finding relief from sciatica can be difficult – it’s always there and often worsened by sitting, coughing, and even sneezing. The numbness, tingling and weakness associated with sciatica can make it difficult to walk, climb stairs or participate in normal daily activities.
What causes sciatica
The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body. It originates as a network of nerves in the lumbosacral area of the spinal cord and travels down through the pelvis into the back of the leg and foot. It is responsible for movement and sensation throughout the leg and foot.
The most frequent cause of sciatica is pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can be caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis); degenerative arthritis of the spine; muscle tightness; a tumor; or pregnancy. However, the most common cause is a herniated disc.
In between each of the spinal vertebrae are rubbery discs, which are composed of gel-like center with a tough outer coating. When a disc herniates, the gel interior pushes through a crack in the outer coating. This herniation can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica. Although the symptoms of sciatica are felt in the lower extremities, the origin is the lower back.
Diagnosing and treating sciatica
A physical exam is the first step in diagnosing sciatica. You’ll be asked about your symptoms and when they began. Your provider may check your muscle strength and reflexes and asked you to rise from a squatting position, walk on your heels and toes, and raise your leg without bending the knee. Imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRIs, may be ordered.
Conservative treatment is typically tried first, said Brad Davidson, MSPT, PT, CCI, physical therapist at ApexNetwork PT in Frenchburg. “This might include oral anti-inflammatories, steroid injections, manual therapy or traction,” he noted, adding that lifestyle changes may also help – eating a healthy diet, shedding weight, even moving your wallet from your hip pocket to a front pocket.
“Physical therapy can be extremely beneficial in addressing habits that may contribute to sciatic pain,” Davidson said, “including poor posture, sitting in the same position for a long period, lack of flexibility and muscle weakness.” Physical therapy may include heat and cold therapy, TENs treatment, and ultrasound. Strengthening, stretching, range of motion and aerobic exercises are usually taught to the patient, who has the opportunity to practice these techniques under the guidance of the physical therapist.
If you’re suffering from sciatica, it’s important to talk with your doctor or physical therapist as soon as possible of onset of symptoms to achieve the greatest benefit, and quickest relief.
ApexNetwork Physical Therapy locations in Kentucky:
814 Highway 36
513 Maysville Road
156 W. College Ave.
The experts at ApexNetwork PT are here to help you get on the road to recovery. Stop by a clinic or visit us online at ApexNetworkPT.com. We’d be proud to welcome you into our family.