Sciatica is the name given to a group of symptoms characterized by pain in the lower back, buttocks and legs. The pain may be accompanied by muscle weakness, numbness or a prolonged feeling of "pins and needles," and it is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerves in the lower back. This can occur for a variety of reasons, the most common being a slipped disc, and it usually is treated with a mixture of pain medication and specialized physical therapy for sciatica. The three main types of physical therapy for sciatica are physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic medicine.
Physiotherapy is usually prescribed as the main physical therapy for sciatica, alongside pain and anti-inflammatory medications. The physiotherapy usually begins after two weeks of bed rest, which has been proved to help with most cases of sciatica. For this reason, it is important for physiotherapy to start slowly. The first few sessions might consist of light bending and stretching exercises as well as discussing relevant lifestyle changes. Core strength and stability exercises will then be introduced, and an exercise ball might be used to help with this.
Osteopathy is another physical therapy for sciatica, and it might occur in conjunction with physiotherapy. The osteopath will attempt to find out the cause of the nerve damage and might use massage or palpitations to relieve pain and pressure. Osteopaths also will concentrate on creating a healthy posture and preventing a recurrence of sciatica or further back problems that might be caused by a poor posture or lifestyle.
The last common physical therapy for sciatica is chiropractic medicine. This usually involves several elements, including hot and cold therapy, the use of a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine and spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is a form of physical therapy that involves manipulating the ligaments and discs into a natural position in order to relieve pressure on and damage to the nerves. The adjustment usually is not painful, because the ligaments are simply moved into their correct position in the spinal column.
Chiropractors might use slightly different interpretations of the same therapy, so it is important for patients to communicate with their physical therapists to ensure that they know if the patient is in any pain. Some cases of sciatica require gentle, sweeping motions, and others might require more forceful movements. Neither method should cause discomfort.
Physical treatments for sciatica usually are prescribed with medication, including an effective pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory. Severe cases might also require an epidural injection. Referral to an occupational therapist might be appropriate as well.