One of the most common questions I get asked… Is Sciatica a Lifelong Condition?
Anyone that has suffered from sciatica knows how painful it can be and they often wonder if sciatica is a lifelong condition.
Sciatica is a pain radiating from the lower back, down the buttocks, down the back of the leg. The pain is also constant and debilitating. During the day, the pain stops you from most activities and at night it stops you from sleeping. Many patients endure this cycle for days or weeks, unable to properly and effectively function during their day to day lives. And many of them, without the proper treatment, have wrongly assumed that this is just the way their life has to be! They worry that they will have sciatica the rest of their lives and this pain will be a constant companion in their lives.
Let me assure you, that in fact, this is simply not true and you don’t have to suffer from sciatica! Sciatica is not a lifelong condition. But first let’s get to know everything we can about sciatica so that we have a better understanding of what is, what causes it, and what can be done to relieve it.
So…What is Sciatica?
First, sciatica is actually not a condition but rather a symptom of a condition! Let me repeat this… sciatica is not a condition but a symptom of something else going on.
Our bodies have a sciatic nerve running from the lower back through the back of the leg and down to the toes. It is actually the longest nerve in the human body. When this nerve becomes irritated, pain radiates from the lower back through the length of that nerve, often reaching all the way to the toes. This means, in fact, that the sciatic pain you feel radiating from your lower back to the back of your leg is a sign that something is going on with your lower back and it is irritating or adding pressure to the sciatic nerve. In fact, the lower down your leg you are having pain, numbness, or tingling, is a sign that there is more pressure being added to your sciatic nerve.
My goal as your physical therapist is to identify and treat the root of the problem, or the condition with your lower back, as opposed to only trying to reduce the pain you’re feeling.
What is the Root Cause of Sciatica?
The root cause of your sciatica will most likely differ from the root cause of someone else’s sciatica. Why is that? Well, because causes vary from person to person and the pain can be attributed to many different conditions or factors. But because I know you want answers, here are three common causes of back pain and sciatica:
Cause #1: A Herniated Disk
The bones in your spine, your vertebrae, are separated by thin cushions or round disks made up of connective tissue. Due to wear and tear or an injury, a disk can become inflamed and push out, becoming herniated. When a disk pushes out, it adds pressure to the nerves around it, and you guessed it, your sciatic nerve. This added pressure will cause you mild to sharp pain that radiates from your lower back through your hips, buttocks, legs, and feet.
Cause #2: Spinal Stenosis
Spinal Stenosis mostly occurs in adults over 50 years old and occurs when the spinal canal begins to narrow. This narrowing or tightness can pinch the spinal cord and the nerves around it causing pain, numbness, tingling from the lower back to the back of your leg. Sound familiar? Spinal stenosis is another root cause of sciatica. Spinal stenosis is usually accompanied by arthritis, which can cause changes in your disks and add pressure to your sciatic nerve.
Cause #3: SI Joint Dysfunction
The sacroiliac joint, or SI Joint connects the hip bones to the sacrum and its main function is to absorb shock between the upper body, the pelvis, and legs. The SI joint typically has limited motion because it is supported by a ligaments that surround it. When there is a dysfunction in the SI joint, there can be too much or too little movement. Too much movement can cause the pelvis to become unstable and you can feel pain radiating from the lower back to the groin area. Too little movement causes pain radiating from the lower back to the buttocks and back to the leg. This is similar to sciatica pain.
How Can Physical Therapy Treat Sciatica?
Sciatica can be treated with physical therapy. At Advanced Physical Therapy Specialists, we don’t just treat your sciatica, but we identify the root cause of your pain and provide treatment that heals the underlying cause of the problem and prevents recurrences and flareups. Treatment may include various types of physical and manual therapies and exercises, nerve mobilization, joint mobilization, myofascial release, as well as functional retraining. We also tailor a home exercise program consisting of no more than 2 – 3 exercises at a time that will address your individual muscle imbalance. We specialize in Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy (OMPT) which involves hands-on techniques for restoring mobility, reducing muscle tension, and restoring your natural movement without pain.
Sciatica is not a lifelong condition or something that you have to live with for the rest of your life. To read more about sciatica and lower back pain, check out our free guide “7 Quick and Easy Ways to Ease Back Pain and Stiffness.” If you are experiencing lower back pain and sciatica pain, call us at (305) 433-1172 and let us help. We will pinpoint and treat the root cause of your problem and help you live an active and pain free lifestyle.