Do you have back pain or sciatica?

Back pain is common, with about nine out of ten adults experiencing it at some point in their life. Around 60% of people in the UK who experienced lower back pain and leg pain were diagnosed with sciatica. In recent studies, it is also shown that people with more physically demanding jobs have an increased risk of developing sciatic pain.

While sciatica sufferers have a favourable chance of improving with treatment, around 20-30% of people continue to suffer from symptoms for one to two years after their initial symptoms begin.

How do back pain and sciatica differ?

Back pain

The term “back pain” describes a variety of conditions that can affect the back. Your back may be painful as a result of poor posture, sporting activity, or a lifting injury at work. Our physiotherapists or sports therapists will develop a treatment plan for you based on how you developed the pain, its exact location, and your past medical history.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a type of back pain that is reported to be highly uncomfortable. Fortunately, it is also very easy to diagnose. People with sciatica experience pain along their sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in your body.

Sciatic nerves begin at your lower back and then split at the base of your spine. They extend further down to your buttocks, legs, and the bottoms of your feet. When the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated, you may feel a “shooting,” “stinging,” or “burning” sensation in your lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet.

What causes back pain and sciatica?

Back pain is typically caused by an injury. This can be caused by repetitive strain, such as leaning down repeatedly while gardening, or a more serious, sudden trauma, such as a car accident. Other conditions, such as herniated discs, can also lead to intense pain, resulting in radiculopathy pain in the leg, foot, or thigh. Degenerative disc disease is a common condition as we age, which can result in back pain. People with this condition typically report dull, aching pains in their lower back, and have difficulty with prolonged standing or walking.

Sciatica typically affects people between the ages of 30 and 50. Many types of injuries can cause sciatica, including arthritis, bone spurs, or any other injury that impacts the sciatic nerve. Most commonly, we find that people lose their flexibility in the hips and pelvis, which causes the gluteus and hip muscles to become tightened. The result is altered mechanics of the spine and compression of the sciatic nerve as it passes through these tissues.

Treating back pain and sciatica

For most people, back pain will come and pass. However, what many people don’t realize, is that the underlying problem of poor joint movement, core weakness, and poor muscle coordination, will set them up for a future back injury, which can be significantly worse.

Back pain and sciatica are both completely treatable through physiotherapy and sports therapy. Your clinician creates a specific treatment plan for you that is dependent upon your diagnosis. The early stages of your treatment focus on quick pain relief.

As your pain reduces, your physical therapist will expand on strengthening your core muscle group with specific therapeutic exercises and stretches. The goal here is to increase your strength and range of motion to prevent re-injury of your spine.

An effective exercise that would be focused on when aiming to improve sciatica pain is pelvic tilt exercises. The pelvic tilt is a term for the positioning of the pelvis in comparison to the rest of the body which can be tilted one way or another. A lot of people who experience lower back pain or sciatica generally have reduced control or awareness of their pelvic tilt leading to muscle imbalances.

Pelvic control can be performed as a single exercise or be integrated into other exercises which a clinician may get the patient to perform such as glute bridges, hip thrusts and dead bugs which may all come in multiple variations to either increase or reduce the difficulty dependant on the patient and their symptoms.

If you are suffering from back pain or sciatica, our clinicians will implement specific leg stretches into your treatment plan to loosen the sciatic nerve. This restores the natural health of the nerve and quickly reduces symptoms. For example, piriformis stretches, which is where a patient would place one foot on the opposite thigh and pull that thigh into their body. This would result in a stretch into their glute area. Another is a gentle windshield wiper stretch where you rock your knees side to side just relieving pressure on the lower back.

Additionally, a gentle cat-cow movement may also help relieve lower back discomfort. All stretches should be performed for around 30 seconds ensuring that breathing is properly controlled. Sciatic nerve flossing may also be performed to help facilitate the movement of the nerves. This is carried the patient being sat down on a seat and straighten one leg out in front of them and begin moving the foot towards and away from the body whilst tilting the head up and down at the same time in a slumped position.

When sleeping patients may want to place a pillow under their knees to help support their lower back which may make it more comfortable to sleep at night.

A heat source such as wheat bags, hot water bottles, or a warm bath can help with short-term pain relief. They should be used for approximately 10-15 minutes at a time to relax the muscles. Alternatively, ice may be used to help reduce pain.

If you are suffering from back pain or sciatica, our clinicians will implement specific leg stretches into your treatment plan to loosen the sciatic nerve. This restores the natural health of the nerve and quickly reduces symptoms.

If you are experiencing back pain or sciatica, make an appointment with one of our specialists at Response Physio & Sports Therapy. No matter how severe the pain may be, we will help you get on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.