Sciatica describes a pain that shoots down the lower back through one or both legs, following the path of the sciatic nerve. Anyone who has had the misfortune of suffering sciatica can tell you: it’s not something one wants to experience twice. Unfortunately, without making some lifestyle changes, sciatica may very well return.
Why It Happens–And Can Happen Again
There are a number of lifestyle and physiological risk factors that contribute to sciatica. Some of these, like age or being diabetic, aren’t things a patient can control. Quite a few, however, are things a patient may be able to change. These include weight (obesity is a big risk factor), prolonged sitting, and occupational behaviors (i.e. if your job involves a lot of heavy lifting). Addressing these factors will help reduce the risk of experiencing sciatica again.
Initial Treatment Options
Patients experiencing the first signs of sciatica should seek medical attention ASAP. Sciatica is the result of something pinching the sciatic nerve. A physician or specialist will attempt to first diagnose the source of this pressure. Usually, it’s a herniated disk or bone spur (a growth on the vertebrae), but it can be the result of diabetes or other disease related complications, or even a tumor on the spine.
Regardless of the cause, the first step in treatment is to address the symptoms, specifically the debilitating pain–usually through medication. Narcotics can be a short-term solution to provide the patient with some relief and allow them to perform basic daily functions. Anti-inflammatories are often used to relieve swelling, muscle relaxants and even anti-seizure medications to reduce painful contractions, and even certain antidepressants may be helpful.
In the majority of cases of sciatica, this symptom-treatment strategy coupled with bed rest can be enough to get patients through the few weeks the pain is usually most intense; after, the condition, in many cases, resolves itself.
Physical Therapy To Prevent Recurrence
A physical therapist can help patients make the lifestyle and fitness changes that will reduce the risk of a recurrence. Generally, physical therapy works best after the initial episode is over–the combination of the need for adequate rest, pain, and medications make it difficult to have a quality session before.
One of the most direct ways a PT can help is by leading the patient in exercises to build a better support for their spine. It’s important to work with a medically trained professional on these exercises to avoid poor posture, which can exacerbate pain in an already stressed spine. They can also help develop a home exercise program that will make it easier to incorporate fitness into a patient’s day-to-day routine. This includes ways to aid in weight loss, if extra pounds may be a contributing factor. Finally, a PT can discuss occupation duties and how to perform them more safely.
If you’ve recently dealt with sciatica, we encourage you to contact us. Our team of NJ physical therapy experts would be happy to help you reduce your risk while also improving your overall health.