Sciatica symptoms can vary from having severe pain that radiates through the legs and feet, to a burning sensation or the inability to put your full weight on one leg. According to Harvard Health, approximately 40% of people experience sciatica at some point in their life, with about 10% of the population suffering at any given time.

penrose physical therapy sciatica pain
Photo courtesy: Penrose Physical Therapy

Though it’s common to experience sciatica, it’s not normal.

What is Sciatica?

Though you might hear people say, “I have sciatica,” sciatica is not a condition. Instead, it’s a nerve pain symptom of numerous other back problems such as a herniated disc, a bone spur on a vertebra, or the narrowing of spinal cord nerve openings (called spinal stenosis).

The nerve pain you’re feeling comes from inflammation in the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the largest in the body, both in terms of length and width. It starts in the lower back area (the lumbar spine) and branches down through the legs and feet. It can be extremely painful. It can create feelings of sharpness, numbness, and tingling that go all the way from your low back down to your foot. The good news is that sciatica can be both treated and prevented.

Causes of Sciatica

There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of an aggravate sciatica, including:

  • Age: Symptoms tend to first appear in adults between 25 and 45 years of age. An accumulation of injuries and microtraumas can trigger the first sensations of pain.
  • Weight: Carrying more than what is considered a healthy weight can put increased stress and pressure on your spine.
  • Occupation: Both sedentary and physical jobs can contribute to spinal conditions.
  • Sitting: As the saying goes, “sitting is the new cancer.” Being sedentary for extended periods throughout the day can adversely affect your back.
  • Diabetes: According to the Mayo Clinic, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for nerve damage.

How to Avoid Sciatica Pain

There are numerous ways to avoid and lessen sciatic nerve pain, ranging from lifestyle changes to treatment options, especially physical therapy.

  1. Maintain good posture. Slouching and sitting in improper positions can put undue strain on your back, making sciatica worse. When you’re standing, make sure you put equal weight on both legs and maintain a position where your shoulders and hips are balanced. Do you read in bed? This might be part of the problem. Try sitting up in a good chair with a heated cozy blanket instead of reading in bed.
  2. Avoid sitting for long periods. If you have a desk job, make sure you take frequent breaks to get up, walk around and stretch.
  3. Join yoga. Did you know that neurosurgeons tell their patients that yoga is the “closest thing to a miracle for spine pain?” Listen to my yoga podcast where I interview a client and how yoga has helped her. Go to “Stay Healthy South Sound” on your podcast platform. Our yoga classes are small and we give modifications for people with sciatica. If you have failed before you may need to try a smaller group size. Call us and attend a session for free.
  4. Lose weight. We have an eigth-week coaching program where we help people eat healthy and exercise and coach you weekly on how to do this and live it! Email us for more info.  On the “Stay Healthy South Sound” podcast I interview a client who went through the program if you want more details!
  5. Strengthen your core muscles. You may need help to do this safely.
  6. Adjust your sleep position. We spend many hours sleeping each day, and being in the wrong position here can wreak havoc on your spine. The best sleeping positions are:
    • On your side with a pillow between your knees and ankles.
    • On your back with a pillow under your knees.

Effective Treatment for Sciatica Pain Relief

A physical therapist (PT) is crucial to helping you live pain-free from sciatica. They can recommend a treatment regime that will address the true cause of your sciatica and give you the tools you need to get back to pain-free living.  Working with a professional can ensure that you take safe and healthy steps to treat sciatica and ease pain.

We have a free low back pain and sciatica workshop on Thursday, March 3 at 6:15 p.m.  Please email info@penrosept.com to sign up. Spots limited!

If you’re in pain and ready to get your life back, contact Penrose Physical Therapy at 360.456.1444 to schedule a complimentary consultation.  We are located at 1445 Galaxy Dr. NE Suite 301 Lacey, WA.  We also have free tips reports on back pain and sciatica on the Penrose & Associates Physical Therapy website.

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