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Sciatica: What It Is & How It's Treated

Irritation to the sciatic nerve is commonly known as sciatica (but it can also be referred to as a lumbar radiculopathy).

Most times, sciatica is a result of nerve root irritation or compression occurring at or near the lumbar spine. In some instances, compression from muscles in the buttock region can cause irritation to the sciatic nerve. In either case, symptoms of sciatica include:

•Pain in the buttocks or back of the thigh

•Weakness in the involved leg

•Numbness or tingling that can radiate to the foot

•Back pain

•Difficulty maintaining stationary positions including standing, sitting or lying down

•Difficulty with spinal movements including bending, lifting and twisting

•Difficulty or inability to stand up straight

Your medical provider will be able to diagnose if you have sciatica. Once more serious pathology is ruled out, your provider may prescribe physical therapy. Your therapist will take an extensive history and will try to determine what may have caused your injury, will assess your mobility and strength, and determine what movements are irritants and which movements will help alleviate your symptoms.

Initial treatments can include:

•Applying a cold pack or hot pack to painful area

•Frequently changing positions to keep pain minimal

•Continuing to perform your normal activities but limiting increases in pain

•Avoiding bed rest

•NSAIDs if prescribed by your physician

•Topicals with lidocaine or menthol

In most cases, a sciatica episode will resolve within 12 weeks. Physical therapy can help with education on body positioning, exercises, and modalities to help reduce your symptoms and improve quality of life. Even when pain does subside, it may be beneficial to follow up with a therapist due to residual weakness in the involved leg or to see if anything can be done to prevent another episode.

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