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Sciatica Back Pain: 9 Physical Therapy Exercises for Immediate Relief

Did you know that about 40% of people experience sciatica at some point in their life and it tends to become more frequent as you age? When you have sciatica back pain, it can feel like debilitating because of the shooting pain and restricted mobility. The pain can strike any time, often with no warning or apparent cause. The unpredictability of it all can leave you feeling frustrated and helpless. In this article, you will learn how physical therapy exercises are essential to the treatment plan for people with sciatica back pain.

What is Sciatica Back Pain?

Sciatica is pain that radiates from the lower back and down one or both legs. It’s caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, which runs from each side of the lower spine through the buttocks and into the legs. Sciatica usually affects one side of the body and can be triggered by a specific event, such as a fall or a sporting injury. The pain can be mild or excruciating, and sometimes it’s accompanied by tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in the leg. You can prevent or ease sciatica by maintaining a healthy spine, paying attention to your posture, exercising regularly, losing weight if you’re overweight, and not smoking. Treatment focuses on relieving pain and includes rest, ice packs, pain relievers, and gentle stretches.

What Areas of the Body are Most Affected by Sciatica?

Sciatica pain results from injury to the sciatic nerve which originates in your buttock or gluteal area. It is formed by nerve roots coming from the lumbar and sacral spine. On each side of the body, the right and left sciatic nerves run through your hips, buttocks and down the posterior thigh, ending just below the knee. The sciatic nerve then branches form other nerves, which continue down your leg and into your foot and toes. Pain that results from the compression, pinching or injury to the sciatic nerve in the anatomical regions that it supplies is known as ‘sciatica’. Pain from sciatica usually worsens with certain movements such as squatting, lying on your back or lifting your leg one at a time.

Symptoms of Sciatica Back Pain

The pain of sciatica can range from an annoying nagging ache to a severe, debilitating pain that shoots down both legs. The pain is often described as a sharp, burning, electrical, or pinching sensation in one or both legs. Therefore, when something irritates the nerve, it can result in pain anywhere in the lower limbs and extremities. When sciatica is caused by a herniated disc, the pain often starts in the lower back and radiates down to one or both legs. The pain can be intermittent or constant, throbbing or shooting, and can range from mild to severe. You generally will feel more pain on one side of the body than the other. You may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs due to sciatica.

You want to consult a physician, pain expert, or physical therapist in case of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, severe pain in your low back or leg
  • Numbness or muscle weakness in your leg
  • Acute injury
  • Trouble controlling your bowel or bladder requires immediate attention from a physician.

Causes of Sciatica

Sciatica can be caused by anything that compresses or irritates the sciatic nerve. The most common causes include:

  • Disc degeneration. About 1% to 5% of all people will have a slipped disk at one point in their lives. With age, the discs in the spine begin to break down, and they may also shrink.
  • Spinal stenosis. This is often caused by degenerative disc disease (see above) or a fractured spine that is not properly healed.
  • This is when one of the vertebrae has slipped forward and is compressing the nerve.
  • This is usually temporary, but in some cases, it can lead to long-term sciatica.
  • Poor posture. Slouching or lousy posture can stress the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine, leading to sciatica.
  • Weight gain. Excess body fat around the abdomen compresses and puts pressure on the lower spine, causing sciatica.

How Can Physical Therapy Help Sciatica Back Pain?

The immediate goal to in sciatica back pain management is pain relief. Once the pain improves with medication or another treatment modality, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to design a rehabilitation program with you based on your individual needs. Physical therapy helps correct your posture, strengthen the muscles supporting your back and improve your flexibility.

9 Physical Therapy Exercises to Treat Sciatica Back Pain

Physical therapy for sciatica back pain is geared towards pain reduction and strengthening muscles in the back to avoid re-injuring yourself and prevent further sciatica episodes. Here are 9 tried and tested exercises that will help you achieve those goals, but make sure you consult with an expert physical therapist before trying them out yourself:

  • Abdominal sets – lying on your back with knees flexed, feet flat on the floor, hands resting on your stomach. Tighten your abdominal muscles so the stomach feels as if it is moving away from your hands or as if you are putting on a tight pair of jeans. Hold the position 5 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  • Back lying hip flexion – lying on your back do the abdominal set exercise. Then holding the position slowly flex one hip raising the foot of the surface, hold 5 seconds, lower the foot to the surface then relax. Repeat 10 times alternating sides.
  • Back lying bridge – lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Lift your hips up until you are in a bridge position. Hold for 5 seconds, then slowly lower the hips back to floor. Repeat the exercise initially 6 to 10 times.
  • Standing hip flexion – holding on to a countertop or back of a chair flex on hip forward while tightening your abdominal (stomach) muscles. Hold the hip flexed position for 5 seconds then slowly lower the foot to the starting position. Repeat 6 to 10 times alternating sides.
  • Standing active knee flexion – holding onto a countertop or back of chair, place one foot in front of the other with both feet facing straight ahead. Bend the knee of your back leg bringing the foot toward the same side gluteal muscles. Hold for 5 seconds, lower the foot slowly to the starting position, repeat 6 to 10 times. Repeat with the opposite lower extremity.
  • Hamstring stretch – Place one foot on a bench or chair. Slowly bring your chest toward the thigh of the foot on the chair or bench until you feel a mild stretch in the back of the thigh. Hold the position for 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch with the opposite side.
  • Sitting hip flexion – sitting in a chair, tighten your abdominal (stomach) muscles, then flex one hip so the thigh comes off the chair. Hold the position 5 seconds then slowly lower the thigh to the starting position. Repeat the movement with the other side, alternating sides for 6-10 repetitions.
  • Wall squats – Stand with your back against a wall. Slide down the wall until your knees are bent at 45 to 90-degree angle. Hold for 5 seconds, then slide back up the wall to the starting position. Repeat the exercise 6-10 repetitions.
  • Sit to stand – Sit with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Initially help push yourself up with your hands until you’re standing. Reverse the process to sit back down.


When Can I Expect Results From Physical Therapy?

The early stages of sciatica usually require hands on manual therapy reduce the sensitivity of the irritated region. Positive results may be achieved in the first few sessions. The total length of time to resolve sciatica varies dependent on the variables discussed earlier as causes that increase the risk of sciatica. Having an experienced physical therapist working with you who understands the complexity of the situation is of great value in speeding the rate of recovery.

Why Choose Twin Boro for Sciatica Back Pain Relief?

Twin Boro Physical Therapy offers some of the most advanced and effective treatments available. Its expert staff works to help each patient overcome injuries or other physical issues in a manner tailored to their specific needs. Book an appointment today!

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