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Physical Therapy to Relieve Sciatica

Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to help you relieve your sciatica and restore movement. Physical therapy includes both passive and active treatments. Passive treatments help to relax you and your body. They also prepare your body for therapeutic exercise, which is the active part of physical therapy.

Your physical therapist may give you passive treatments such as:

  • deep tissue massage: This technique targets chronic muscle tension that could be pressing on your sciatic nerve or related nerve roots. The therapist uses direct pressure and friction to try to release the tension in your soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles).
  • hot and cold therapies: By using heat, the physical therapist seeks to get more blood to the target area because an increased blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to that area. For example, a heat pack placed on your piriformis muscle may help to reduce muscle spasms that could be causing your sciatica. Cold therapy slows circulation, helping to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, and pain. Your physical therapist will alternate between hot and cold therapies.
  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation): You could even use this at home, if your therapist thinks it's necessary. A machine stimulates your muscles through variable (but safe) intensities of electrical current. TENS helps reduce muscle spasms, and it may increase your body's production of endorphins, your natural painkillers. The TENS equipment your physical therapist uses is larger than the "at-home" use machine. However, whether large or small, a TENS unit can be a helpful therapy.
  • ultrasound: Ultrasound sends sound waves deep into your muscle tissues and creates a gentle heat that enhances circulation and helps to speed healing. Increased circulation helps to reduce muscle spasms, cramping, swelling, stiffness, and pain.

In the active part of physical therapy, your therapist will teach you various exercises. Your physical therapy program is individualized, taking into consideration your health and history. It may include aerobic conditioning, strengthening exercises, and movements to increase flexibility and range of motion.

Physical therapy may be part of a comprehensive sciatica treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.  SpineUniverse has extensive articles on all sciatica treatment options.  You may want to read about:

If needed, you will learn how to correct your posture and incorporate ergonomic principles into your daily activities.  This will be done to work on preventing future episodes of sciatica. 

Updated on: 12/19/12
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