As we age, our bodies change. We walk a little more gingerly, we heal a little more slowly, and we experience pain in places that didn’t trouble us during our youth. At any given time, 31 million Americans are actively experiencing lower back pain, and one of the most common causes of back pain is sciatica: a wide-ranging condition that can be summed up as pain or discomfort traced to the sciatic nerve. Though you may not have heard of it, sciatica affects approximately 40% of Americans at some point during their lifetime.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, and when this nerve is impacted, damaged, or injured, this can result in searing pain or numbness extending from the lower back down through one or both legs. Sciatica typically sets in during our forties or fifties and can be caused by many sources including herniated discs, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal), or tight hip muscles (piriformis syndrome).
If you have been formally diagnosed with sciatica or suspect that you may suffer from it, there are a variety of treatment options available to you. Unfortunately, there are so many options to choose from that it can be difficult to establish which of them (if any) are effective.
Despite the advancements in medicine that we have witnessed over the past half-century, there remains a tendency among physicians to treat sciatica by throwing medications at it. There are a number of downsides to this tactic. For one thing, it doesn’t work: patients treated with NSAIDs (like aspirin or ibuprofen) do not experience immediate or long-term relief from the lower back pain associated with sciatica. Patients prescribed opioid medications (like Oxycodone of hydrocodone) may experience momentary pain relief, but quickly build up a tolerance, with the end result that even a potent painkiller may prove no stronger than an Advil in the long run. Worse yet, some patients (especially those taking opioids) can become addicted to, or dependent upon, these medications which can permanently impact the way they live their lives.
Sciatica can also be treated through surgery, but this is regarded as a last resort, and for good reason: spinal surgery is extremely expensive, and has not been shown to result in long-lasting pain relief for sciatica patients. This means that those patients may wind up requiring further surgery at an even heftier cost.
Physicians and patients both agree that the best route to take when treating sciatica is to adopt a physical therapy plan that exercises the affected area in order to release tension and provide pain relief. Because each and every patient is different, it is important to first consult a physical therapist so that a personalized therapy plan can be designed with your needs in mind. An experienced physical therapist can identify the source of pressure on the sciatic nerve and devise a winning strategy to alleviate pain and numbness.
Because physical therapy is so customizable, it is something that can be done both with a therapist and in the comfort of your own home. Commonly prescribed exercises and therapeutic techniques include core strengthening exercises, muscle energy techniques, spinal stabilization, and nerve slides or glides. Physical therapy fits into your lifestyle: it can be prescribed with medication or following a surgery, and it is an excellent way for patients to stay in shape in spite of lower back pain.
When it comes to addressing the cause of sciatica and the complications that result from it, the professionals at Buffalo Back and Neck Physical Therapy are second to none. Contact us to set up a consultation so that you can explore the wide variety of physical therapy treatment plans that we offer to our clients in the Western New York area. Our staff of experienced medical professionals have the ability to assess the source of your lower back pain and to devise a physical therapy plan that works for you.