Physical Therapy for Sciatica

Sciatica refers to a specific type of pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve is aggravated or injured. If you experience pain, tingling, and numbness in the lower back that extends into one of your buttocks, hip, and leg, then you may be dealing with sciatica. Sciatica is a type of symptom that can occur with a diagnosis of a lower back injury or condition like a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy for sciatica to help alleviate your pain and other uncomfortable symptoms. Sciatica physical therapy can help slow the progression of symptoms and offers a non-surgical solution to managing and reducing your pain.

Common Symptoms of Sciatica

If you experience sciatica, then it is common to only have symptoms along one side of the body. The sciatic nerve is located near the base of your spine in your lower back. Injury or issue with the sciatic nerve can cause pain that may be constant or intermittent. Many people describe sciatica pain as a burning sensation with sharp, shooting pains. These stabbing pains may start in your lower back and extend through your buttock, hip, and into your leg and foot. Leg pain with sciatica is common in the calf and below the knee. Sciatica can also cause a sensation often called “pins and needles”. You may experience weakness, numbness, and tingling in the affected lower half of your body. Weakness is more common in your leg and foot, and you might find it difficult to lift your foot. Sciatica pain can get worse when you change your posture, like going from sitting to standing or while lying down to sleep at night.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Sciatica

Physical therapy offers a safe and natural option to help relieve sciatica. Doctors tend to recommend physical therapy and non-invasive treatment options as early interventions for sciatica. In fact, sciatic nerve physical therapy is typically the first line of defense for dealing with sciatica. Here are some of the great benefits of physical therapy for sciatica.

Relieve Symptoms

Physical therapy offers a hands-on and exercise-based approach to managing your symptoms of sciatica. From reducing your pain to improving weakness, PT for sciatica will help you strengthen, stretch, and condition your body to better handle your sciatica symptoms. When you see a physical therapist for sciatica, you will learn how safe and healthy stretches and exercises can help relieve your pain and other symptoms. Physical therapy will provide you with a personalized plan of care to help strengthen your spine and muscles in the lower back. Your physical therapist will also help you strengthen your core muscles to better support your upper body and take pressure off your lower back.

Promote Healing

Staying active after an injury can also help promote healing in the area. A physical therapist will work with you through a healing and recovery plan that reduces your symptoms and supports your long-term recovery. When you go through safe and monitored activities with a licensed physical therapist, your body will receive the necessary oxygen, fluids, and nutrients to promote healing in the body. While some temporary immobilization may be necessary after an injury, a physical therapist will reintroduce gentle and safe movements and exercises to help reduce the risk of weakened, stiff muscles while you recover. Physical therapy can help you rehabilitate after an injury and support your healing process while also helping you regain your strength and mobility.

Prevent Recurrence

Physical therapy exercises for sciatica can also help prevent a recurrence of your pain and other symptoms. Stretches and exercises can help improve your strength overall so that your body can better manage pressure and relieve stress off your lower back. In addition to strengthening the body, physical therapy can also help reduce inflammation that may be contributing to your pain and limiting your physical functioning. A physical therapist can also walk you through techniques to help improve your posture that will help prevent the recurrence of sciatica. The stronger your body is, the better you are able to move comfortably and avoid chronic pain and issues like sciatica.

Active Physical Therapies for Sciatica

Take an active role in physical therapy for your sciatica. Here are examples of what you may experience in the active part of physical therapy.

Therapeutic Stretches

One of the best ways to alleviate sciatica pain is to stretch and strengthen your muscles. When you stretch your hips and legs, it helps to open your hips and loosen any tight or stiff muscles. Simple stretches like pigeon pose with yoga or stretches that target specific muscles in your lower body can help reduce sciatica pain. Stretching your muscles can help prevent muscle atrophy and reduced range of motion and stiffness in your joints. Your muscles can become inflexible due to lack of use and as a response to pain. Therapeutic stretches can help promote flexibility in these areas so you can exercise more effectively.

Therapeutic Exercises

A physical therapist will walk you through a range of therapeutic exercises to help reduce your sciatica and other symptoms. Many therapeutic exercises target the lower back, buttock, hips, and legs to reduce your pain and improve mobility. Therapeutic exercises can help you improve your strength and flexibility in your core and lower half of the body. Physical therapy can help you resume your regular routines and activities by strengthening and supporting your lower back. Therapeutic exercises can help you experience less pain, a better range of motion, and greater core stability. A physical therapist will identify therapeutic exercises that will work best for you and your symptoms.

Aerobic Conditioning

Proper exercise can help you effectively manage an episode of sciatica. Aerobic conditioning helps improve your cardiovascular fitness, which helps your body pump oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the rest of your body. Your physical therapist may recommend specific aerobic exercises to help manage your pain and increase your range of motion. Physical therapy may incorporate walking, swimming, or using a stationary bike to safely reintroduce aerobic conditioning into your exercise routine.


Your physical therapist may recommend hydrotherapy as a gentle way of exercising with sciatica. Hydrotherapy involves practicing weight-bearing exercises in water that help you build muscle tone without too much pressure on your joints. The buoyancy of the body in water allows you to perform water aerobics and practice everyday movements more effectively, like walking, running, lifting, and bending in a gentler environment.

Posture and Ergonomics

Improving your posture and focusing on ergonomics can also help redistribute weight and pressure off your sciatic nerve. Strengthening your core can help you maintain a healthier posture and better protect your spine. Ergonomic changes to your surroundings, like better support while sitting at your desk at work, can help prevent future episodes of sciatica.

Passive Physical Therapies for Sciatica

Passive physical therapies involve treatment techniques with your physical therapist to help you relax your body and prepare for active physical therapy techniques. Here are examples of passive physical therapy techniques to help reduce your sciatica.

Deep Tissue Massage

A physical therapist may recommend deep tissue massage to target specific muscles that support your lower back, hips, and buttock. These muscles may be compressing the sciatic nerve and contributing to your pain and discomfort. Deep tissue massage incorporates direct pressure and friction to help release tension in your soft tissues, like muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Hot and Cold Therapies

Applying ice and heat to your lower back can also provide temporary relief from sciatica and other symptoms. Cold compresses restrict blood vessels and help with reducing inflammation that may be compressing the sciatic nerve. Warm compresses help relieve tense, stiff muscles and bring more blood and oxygen to the targeted area. Alternating between hot and cold therapies can help reduce muscle spasms and other symptoms that may make your sciatica worse.

Ultrasound Therapy

Ultrasound uses sound waves that move into your muscle tissues and provide gentle heat to improve circulation. Ultrasound therapy can help speed up the healing process in your lower back and provide relief from sciatica. By increasing circulation in the area, ultrasound therapy can help reduce muscle spasms, swelling, and stiffness.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, uses a machine to stimulate your muscles with a therapeutic electric current. Your physical therapist may recommend TENS to reduce any muscle spasms that occur along with sciatica. TENS can also help promote your body’s production of natural painkillers called endorphins, which is the body’s natural way of managing sciatica and other types of pain.

What to Expect with Physical Therapy for Sciatica

If you have never been to physical therapy before, then you might not know what to expect! Here are common examples of what to expect with physical therapy for sciatica at AICA Orthopedics.

Initial Evaluation

What-to-Expect-with-Physical-Therapy-for-SciaticaYour first appointment with a physical therapist will involve an initial evaluation. During the initial evaluation, your physical therapist will review your medical history and talk to you about your experience with sciatica. This is a great time to share what types of symptoms you experience and what movements or activities make those symptoms better or worse. Your physical therapist will ask you about your lifestyle and habits to help get a better picture of your overall health and well-being. Your physical therapist may also ask you to perform simple movements to assess how your sciatica may be affecting your range of motion, posture, and movement abilities.

Personalized Plan of Care

Your physical therapist will take all the information gathered during the initial evaluation to develop a personalized plan of care. Physical therapy offers each person an individualized treatment plan that addresses their specific symptoms and limitations for mobility. A physical therapy plan of care will involve a combination of passive and active therapies to help reduce your symptoms and improve your overall functioning. Your physical therapist will talk to you about your goals for treatment and identify ways to effectively reach your goals through treatment. Physical therapy for sciatica may involve a combination of visits to our clinic and at-home exercises you can do in between sessions to help you experience lasting relief.

What to Wear

Physical therapy will typically involve a combination of passive and active therapies. You will want to wear comfortable clothing to your physical therapy sessions so you can perform movements, stretches, and exercises as recommended by your treatment plan. Workout clothes that are loose-fitting will not restrict any movements or blood flow while you are working with a physical therapist. Your physical therapist may also recommend certain clothing to help make your physical therapy sessions a success.

How Often to Attend

The length of time you spend with a physical therapist will depend on your goals for treatment and how long you need to fully heal and recover. Your physical therapist may recommend you start off with a certain number of clinic visits per week before reducing the number as you learn more stretches and exercises you can perform safely at home and in between sessions. Your length of treatment may also depend on what is causing your sciatica and what treatment is necessary to treat the root cause. Physical therapy can be the best treatment for sciatica when you follow through with your personalized plan of care from start to finish.

Visit AICA Orthopedics and experience physical therapy for sciatica near you. Our team of multi-specialty doctors includes physical therapists, orthopedic doctors, neurologists, and chiropractors who work together to provide you with a comprehensive plan for treatment. Get the most out of your physical therapy when you get treatment at AICA Orthopedics. We offer state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, and all our doctors are located in one convenient space for a one-stop-shop for the care you need to effectively manage and relieve your sciatica. Find an AICA Orthopedics clinic near you to get started today on physical therapy for sciatica.