Sciatica & Back Pain Relief Lake City & Florence, SC

Back Pain & Sciatica

Do you have back pain or sciatica pain? You’re not alone! According to the World Health Organization, low back pain is so prevalent that up to 70% of us experience it at least once in our lifetime. For many of us, this pain can become a chronic issue.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans struggling with signs and symptoms of sciatica or low back pain, we encourage you to set up an initial physical therapy appointment so we can get to the bottom of your dysfunction.

What Is Sciatica?

In your lumbar spine (lower back), you have two large nerves exiting on the right and left sides of your spinal column. These nerves, called the sciatic nerves, are the largest in your body and provide motor and sensory input to your legs. Several different nerve roots join together to form the sciatic nerves, which then divide and branch off as they travel into the legs.

With sciatica, something irritates and/or compresses one of these nerves near the spine, leading to inflammation and tissue irritation. Sciatica may also be referred to as lumbar radiculopathy (with radiculopathy being a general term to describe spinal nerve impingement).

What’s compressing the sciatic nerve in the first place? A change in disc orientation may cause pressure on the nearby nerve, in addition to other common age-related changes, such as degenerative disc changes, stenosis, and arthritis. This may happen due to wear and tear, acute trauma, or chronic repetitive stress. However, keep in mind that many studies on thousands of patients have shown asymptomatic persons (i.e. pain-free!) to have similar imaging findings that include disc bulges, herniations, stenosis, arthritis, or other age-related changes when compared to patients who DO have pain. Conversely, patients experiencing “sciatica pain” often have a clean MRI. This means that we can’t rely on imaging to diagnose a condition like sciatica, and oftentimes imaging may not even be necessary to determine how to properly treat sciatica pain.

More rarely, sciatica can be caused by bony tumors. A more distal portion of the sciatic nerve can also be compressed by a muscle in the hip called the piriformis, in a similar yet unique condition, aptly known as piriformis syndrome.

Common Symptoms & Risk Factors of Sciatica and Other Types of Low Back Pain

Though the sciatic nerves originate in the lower spine, it’s not uncommon for some people experiencing sciatica to have no back pain at all! Instead, their symptoms primarily follow the motor and sensory distribution pattern of the nerves as they travel into the right or left leg. Such symptoms may include:

  • Pain that radiates into the buttocks, back of the leg, and sometimes the foot (sciatica pain often feels sharp, numb, burning, stabbing or shooting)
  • Numbness and tingling in the leg
  • Weakness in the leg
  • Decreased reflexes in the leg

Additional symptoms can include spinal muscle spasms and tenderness, back stiffness, decreased tolerance to exercise, and decreased range of motion in the hips. A person’s low back pain or sciatica pain may be worse first thing in the morning, or after prolonged bouts of sitting or standing.

People who are more likely to experience sciatica include men between the ages of 30 and 50, people who stand or sit a lot, people with physically demanding occupations that require regular lifting, pulling, pushing or bending, and people who have experienced some sort of physical trauma, such as an auto or sports accident. Smoking, diabetes, and obesity are also believed to increase a person’s risk of sciatica and low back pain, given their tendency to promote inflammation and stress in the body.

How Physical Therapy Can Diagnose & Manage Sciatica

Robust research has proven that physical therapy is effective for those who suffer from back pain or sciatica pain. It’s safe, cost-effective, drug-free, and non-invasive, and recommended by professional organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Physical therapy treatment can even reduce or prevent the need for pain medications and expensive imaging studies like MRIs and X-rays!

When a physical therapist works with you for relief from your sciatica pain, the main goal will be to reduce your symptoms and alleviate the pressure on the sciatic nerve so that your symptom relief is longer lasting. Additional goals will be to heal any injured tissues, reduce inflammation, improve core stability and strength, restore function, and ultimately get you on a sustainable exercise program to help you maintain your outcomes.

In order to achieve these objectives, your sciatica or low back pain plan of care may include:

  • Manual therapy, including joint mobilization, muscle energy techniques, soft tissue mobilization, and sometimes spinal traction
  • Therapeutic exercises, stretches, self mobilizations, and evidence-based core stabilization protocols (this means scientific studies have been done to vet the exercises’ effectiveness)
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Dry needling
  • Non-invasive modalities, including electrical stimulation and ice or heat for pain management

Are you experiencing back pain or symptoms related to sciatica? In some states, including South Carolina, patients are allowed direct access to physical therapists, meaning they don’t need a referral from their primary care physician. We encourage you to talk to us or your doctor about getting started with a physical therapy program. Contact Us today at Lake City & Florence, SC Centers to learn more and get back to the healthy pain-free life you deserve.