January 22, 2020
The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the entire body. It runs from each side of the lower spine through the buttocks and into the thigh, all the way down to the foot. The sciatic nerve serves an important role in communicating messages from the spinal cord to the legs and feet, but if it gets damaged or compressed from too much pressure, it can lead to radiating symptoms like leg pain in Silver Spring. This is sciatica.
Sciatica is not necessarily a medical diagnosis itself, but rather a set of symptoms related to an issue with the lower back. Common lower back problems that can cause sciatica include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, and spinal stenosis. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is injured or becomes pinched, either from one of these conditions or by an overgrowth of bone in the vertebrae (bone spur). The most common sciatica symptoms include the following:
- Pain that radiates from the lower back down the leg and possibly into the foot
- A constant pain on only one side of the buttocks or leg pain that gets worse with sitting
- A burning, stinging, or searing pain in the leg
- Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg, foot, or toes
- A sharp pain that makes it difficult to stand or walk
Natural, age-related changes are the most common cause of sciatica, and this is why it occurs most frequently between the ages of 40-50. Other factors that may increase the chances of developing sciatica are obesity (which places extra pressure on the spine), diabetes, leading a sedentary lifestyle (too much time sitting), and possibly jobs that involve lots of twisting of the back.
Although sciatica can be a distraction and a deterrent to your everyday life, in most cases it’s not a major problem and will improve with a course of conservative (non-surgical) treatment. Physical therapy is considered a central component of most conservative treatment programs for sciatica, as it’s been found to consistently reduce pain and other symptoms, thereby improving function. If you’re dealing with radiating leg pain in Silver Spring, our physical therapists can help by identifying the source of your sciatica and then creating a treatment program around it. This will usually consist of some of the following components:
- Strengthening exercises: one of the most effective ways to treat sciatica is to strengthen the muscles of the back, as well as the abs, buttocks, and core, which all support the spine
- Stretching exercises: these exercises will target muscles that are tight and inflexible in the back and hamstrings (rear thigh muscles)
- Aerobic exercise: your therapist will recommend cardiovascular exercise like walking, swimming, and/or biking that are less likely to exacerbate symptoms
- Passive treatments: additional treatments like massage, ultrasound, and ice or heat therapy may also be applied by your therapist to reduce your pain levels
- Education: finally, your therapist will offer tips and education on how to reduce complications from sciatica, such as using proper posture at all times, avoiding too much time sitting, getting enough sleep, and avoiding smoking
Unless your sciatica is severe, a treatment program like this will lead to benefits that you’ll notice in the short term, and by adopting healthy habits and staying active, you can remain symptom-free in the long term. So if you’re dealing with radiating leg pain in Silver Spring or other sciatica symptoms, contact CAM Physical Therapy and Wellness Services at 240-500-1830 to schedule an appointment at any of our four clinics in Silver Spring, Laurel, Hyattsville, or Glenn Dale/Bowie, MD today, or click here for more information on sciatica.