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Managing and Treating Sciatica

Woman with sciatic pain clutching lower back

Sciatica means pain, weakness, numbness or tingling along the back of the upper leg, which can extend down to the lower leg and foot. The pain usually occurs on one side and can vary in location, intensity and consistency. This is commonly the result of pressure to the sciatic nerve, which can be caused by a number of factors including injury to the nerve, herniated disc, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord canal or narrowing of the joint between two spinal vertebras), Piriformis syndrome (pain cause by a muscle in the buttock that compresses the nerve), cyst or tumor.

It is important to understand that sciatica is a symptom of another medical condition; the underlying cause should be diagnosed by your physician and therapists before any treatment plan will apply. However, if you are experiencing pain there are a few tips you can try to find some relief, as offered by Hagit Berdishevsky, physical therapist:

1. You can use heat or ice to treat the painful area. Try ice for the first 48 – 72 hours, and use heat after that.

2. Consult with your physician about taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

3. Avoid heavy lifting or twisting of your back you need to let the area heal.

4. Reduce your level of activities but DO NOT BED REST. Research has found that bed rest can actually worsen the situation, resulting in increased weakness and decreased function.

5. If your physician and therapist are in agreement that the source of your sciatic symptoms is mechanical, meaning that movements and position can change the symptoms for better or worse, then physical therapy can help you to learn new exercises and positions that will help alleviate the symptoms and unlearn old habits that may aggravate your symptoms.

6. If the symptoms are severe or constant, consult with your physician about an injection with a concentrated anti-inflammatory agent.

Hagit Berdishevsky is a physical therapist specializing the Schroth method for scoliosis and certified in the McKenzie Method at the Joint Mobility Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Topics: Orthopedics
The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.