Guide to treating sciatica with physical therapy

If you have sciatica, your doctor might recommend physical therapy to treat your condition. The goal of physical therapy is to help a patient regain normal function that can often be lost as a result of sciatic nerve compression. This is usually accomplished through exercises that address weak supporting muscles, such as range of motion exercises, stretching exercises, heat massages and ultrasounds. While these exercises are often learned in a session with a licensed physical therapist, patients are also encouraged to continue the exercises at home as well.

Any physical therapy program should be undertaken with the guidance of your primary care doctor, but independent research can help you get a better idea of what to expect when you go for a session. The following exercises are typical examples of those taught by physical therapists to help patients return to comfortable everyday activity.

How does stretching your back help treat sciatica?

Your physical therapy exercises for sciatica may begin by extending your back. Spinal extension occurs when we bend backward and this exercise can help stretch the spinal column.

  1. Begin by lying down with your stomach on the floor, bracing yourself with your elbows and forearms and positioning your palms on the floor
  2. While keeping your stomach on the floor, push down with your hands and gently push your shoulders backward, stretching the stomach and bending the spine
  3. Keep your neck extended and hold this position for five to 10 seconds, returning to the starting position at the conclusion
  4. You can repeat this exercise eight to 10 times

The opposite of this move, bending forward, also known as spinal flexion, can also provide a nice stretch for the spine.

How does stretching your buttocks help treat sciatica?

This second stretch conducted in physical therapy is designed to target the piriformis muscle, which are muscles located near the tailbone and serves to help the hips rotate.

  1. You can lie on your back, with a flat support object under your head, such as a small pillow or book, while bending your left leg and resting the right foot on top of your left knee
  2. In this position, use your hands or an object such as an exercise band or towel to grasp the back of your left thigh and gently pull it toward your abdomen, being sure to keep your pelvis straight and tailbone flat on the floor
  3. Hold this stretch for up to 30 seconds and repeat two to three times

How does stretching your legs help treat sciatica?

When it comes to treating sciatica in the legs, physical therapy techniques may target the hamstring muscles located behind the knees. This exercise does the same.

  1. Start on your back, with your knees bent, feet on the floor and head resting on a flat support object
  2. Bend one knee toward your chest, then grasp behind your knee and bring your foot toward you while straightening out the knee
  3. When you feel the stretch in your hamstring, hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds, then return to your starting position
  4. Perform this stretch two to three more times on each leg

When to consider sciatica surgery over physical therapy

If ongoing conservative treatments like physical therapy don’t provide relief from sciatica, your doctor may recommend surgery. Laser Spine Institute provides an alternative to minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery that leads to no lengthy recovery^ compared to traditional open spine procedures.

If you are a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery, our board-certified surgeons+ are able to perform muscle-sparing procedures that use a less than 1-inch incision, resulting in less pain and bleeding than traditional open back procedures. The dedicated team at Laser Spine Institute is able to remove the offending anatomy that is pinching your nerve, in order to ease your symptoms and get you back to the activities you love.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today and request a no-cost MRI review* to learn if our outpatient procedures may be effective in relieving your sciatica pain.

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