What is back pain and sciatica?
Back pain is a generalized term that covers a wide range of conditions. Back pain can be caused by a lifting injury, poor posture, an accident, or another cause. Your course of treatment with a physical therapist will depend on the type of back pain, its location, and a lot of other factors. Pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic (lasting more than three months), and it can impact the bones of the spinal structure or muscles in the back.
Sciatica is a specific type of back pain that is intensely painful and easy to diagnose. The pain from sciatica runs along the sciatic nerve — the longest nerve in the body. This nerve extends from your lower back, splits near the base of your spine, and runs down to the bottom of each foot. When the sciatic nerve is “pinched,” it can send a constant, shooting, burning pain from your buttocks to the bottom of your foot.
Causes of back pain and sciatica
Generalized back pain is usually caused by an injury. This can range from a strain or pull in your back muscles (such as bending over to pick up a toddler) to a more serious injury (such as one sustained in a car crash.) A herniated disc in the back is more serious and can lead to tremendous pain, including sciatica. Degenerative disc disease can be caused by obesity or poor posture, and it can lead to dull, aching pain in the lower back.
The longer technical name for sciatica is “lumbar radiculopathy.” It usually impacts people between 30 and 50 years of age. Sciatica can be caused by several different types of injuries, including bone spurs, arthritis, or an injury that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. A fall or a collision during sports, such as soccer or football, can lead to a case of sciatica. The condition can also generate slowly over time, as with the development of arthritis.
How physical therapy helps back pain and sciatica
Recovery from sciatica or other types of back pain is possible with the help of physical therapy. Your course of treatment with a physical therapist will largely depend on your diagnosis. In the early stages of sciatica or back pain, your physical therapist will make specific recommendations to help relieve pain. This can include applying ice packs to affected areas every few hours, going for short walks to remain active, and working on things like your posture to prevent the injury from worsening.
As your condition improves, your physical therapist will work with you on specific exercises, stretches, and treatments. For example, water exercises are a common “prescription” for many back injuries and sciatica, because they will allow you stay physically active. More intense exercises might not be possible during the early stages of recovery. Your physical therapist will prescribe specific leg exercises to relieve the pain from sciatica, so it’s important to do these. The goal of physical therapy for back pain and sciatica is to improve your range of motion, relieve the pain, and strengthen the body so you can ultimately return to your normal daily activities.
If you have been diagnosed with back pain or sciatica, contact PREP Performance Center in Lincoln Square, Irving Park, Lakeview, Horner Park, Roscoe Village & Ravenswood Chicago, IL to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. The pain may be intense now, but we will help get you on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.