If you’ve ever experienced sciatica, you likely won’t forget it because of its distinctive qualities. Sciatic pain is characterized by a burning, tingling sensation of pain that radiates from the spinal area, and travels down the leg. For some, the pain may stop around the knee area, for others the pain may continue to radiate all the way down to their foot. Some patients report a feeling of numbness going down their leg rather than actual pain. Most cases of sciatica involve only one leg.

Although most cases of sciatica resolve within a few weeks, other cases are an indication of a rare, much more serious issue that could lead to leg weakness, or bowel or bladder changes if the underlying cause of the sciatica is left untreated. In this post, we will discuss the importance of the sciatic nerve, what can go wrong, and most importantly, how to resolve sciatic pain as quickly as possible.

The Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve is the widest and longest nerve within the human body. It originates in the low back region, with one nerve traveling down each side of the buttocks, moving down each leg, and eventually separating into other nerves around the knee area. The sciatic nerve is a major nerve that plays a vital role in the communication between the lower extremities, the spinal cord, and eventually the brain.

medical illustration of symptoms of the sciatica

What Can Go Wrong

Although there are multiple reasons why a person might experience sciatic nerve pain, according to the Mayo Clinic the three most common reasons are:

  • Herniated Disc
  • Spinal Bone Spur
  • Spinal Stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)

A spinal disc is made up of a tough, fibrous exterior that houses a softer, jelly-like material inside. Spinal discs reside between two adjacent spinal bones along the entire spinal column. A herniated disc is a disc that has a small tear in its lining, thus providing an opening for disc material to spill out and press on adjacent nerves. Bone spurs are excess bone formations that form on spinal components when the spinal column senses instability due to damaged spinal structures. The bone spurs are an attempt to add more structure and stability to the spine. Unfortunately, the bone spurs sometimes grow in areas where they press on nerves, which in turn causes pain. Spinal stenosis is a physical narrowing of the spinal canal which houses the spinal cord. There are varying degrees of spinal stenosis ranging from mild cases to more severe cases that may impede a person’s ability to control their bowels and/or bladder.

Natural Relief for Sciatic Pain

Fortunately, a diagnosis of sciatic pain does not automatically mean a prescription for surgery. In many cases, professional physical therapy can provide the pain relief that sciatic pain sufferers search for.

A physical therapist may use both heat and ice mechanisms to help relax muscles, as well as reduce inflammation in painful areas. When ready, physical therapists will provide their patients with a series of exercises designed to stretch and strengthen key muscles, that in turn will provide the internal support needed for spinal structures. A physical therapist may also use manual manipulation techniques to realign key spinal structures that are pressing on nerves. Lastly, a good physical therapist will offer home exercises for a patient to perform to help with their current pain, as well as if their sciatic pain should flare up in the future. They may also provide their patient with a list of do’s and don’ts for at-home care, so the patient can avoid an unhealthy movement or activity that has the potential to reintroduce their sciatic pain.

If you received a diagnosis of sciatic pain, we can help! Please contact Cawley Rehab at 570-208-2787 or contact us at: cawleyptfrank@gmail.com to make an appointment today.