Can Physiotherapy Help Sciatica?

By Athlete's Care on June 19, 2023

The physiotherapists at our Toronto clinics see many patients who come for a consultation with the idea that they have sciatica. Usually, what they mean is that they are experiencing pain at the back of the leg. The first order of business is a thorough evaluation to determine the cause – which may or may not be the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve & sciatica

The sciatic nerve runs from the buttocks through the lower back down the back of either leg. It controls the muscles that begin at the back of the knee and extend down the lower leg. It's also involved in the back of the thigh and sole of the foot.

Sciatica occurs when that nerve becomes inflamed. Symptoms include pain from the hips down the back of the leg, a feeling of weakness or tingling, or loss of feeling. The term sciatica technically refers to the symptoms, and not the underlying condition.

To be clear, sciatica causes pain at the back of the leg – but it’s not the only possible cause.

Signs of true sciatica

Ruling out other possible root causes for the pain can be a process of elimination. Some symptoms, however, tend to point specifically towards sciatica:

  • The pain is intense, more so than with other types of lower back or leg pain;
  • The pain may come in spasms of varying intensity;
  • It may also include a feeling of pins and needles, numbness or weakness, or any combination of these;
  • The pain is typically experienced in only one leg at a time.
What causes sciatica?

Often, the nerve is pinched, compressed or irritated by underlying conditions such as:

  • Injuries to the joint;
  • Joint degeneration;
  • Inflammation;
  • Muscle tension;
  • Herniated disc;
  • Among others.

Determining the source is another important aspect of the diagnostic stage.

Physiotherapy for Sciatica

Once your Toronto physiotherapist or other sports medicine specialist has performed a thorough evaluation and determined the root cause, a customized treatment plan can be developed.

An individualized exercise plan will address the specific issues and structures causing the nerve irritation and pain, such as inflammation, displacement or other dysfunction at the sacroiliac joints, intervertebral discs or the small bones at the base of the spine. Exercises may include:

  • Specific stretches and extension exercises, including one called “nerve flossing”;
  • Flexion based exercises, or those that open up the joints to reduce compression;
  • Mobilization exercises, and a focus on strengthening the core;
  • Muscle rolling exercises for the glutes;
  • Among others.

Treatment for sciatica is often a matter of trial and error, and finding the right combination of exercises and other therapies that works best for each individual patient.

Physical therapy can not only help to relieve symptoms, it can help to promote healing, and make the path to healing a smoother one, without flareups. It can also equip patients with the knowledge and exercise techniques to help prevent recurrences.

It can:

  • Improve mobility and reduce or eliminate pain;
  • Reduce muscle spasms;
  • Restore the function of structures causing the issue (hips, lumbar spine, and so on).

Your physiotherapist can also help you determine whether other treatments are required, such as pharmaceutical or other therapies.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of sciatica, our Toronto physiotherapists and other sports medicine specialists are ready with help. Don’t hesitate to contact one of our Toronto physiotherapy clinics today for a consultation.