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Back Pain & Sciatica

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, back pain is the most commonly reported pain across the nation, and one out of every four Americans has experienced back pain in the past three months. Back pain usually results from an injury or strain.

Sciatica, a specific type of back pain involving nerves that span into the legs, is also very common.Whether you are suffering from general back pain or sciatica, working with our physical therapists can help relieve the discomfort in your back and restore your health. Physical therapy may even eliminate your need for harmful painkilling drugs, such as opioids, or an invasive surgical procedure. If you are experiencing back pain, contact our office today. Our skilled physical therapists will create an individualized treatment regimen for you, focusing around your recovery.

What’s the difference between general back pain and sciatica?

Back pain

“Back pain” is a term that can be caused by an array of different conditions. For example, you may experience back pain due to poor posture, a motor vehicle accident, or a lifting injury. The treatment plan that your physical therapist sets up for you will depend on how you developed the back pain and your past medical history.

Back pain can be described as acute, meaning it is short-term, or chronic, meaning it is long-term (typically lasting for three months or longer.) The pain you experience can be due to injury or changes in the muscles, bones, and or nerves in your spine.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a specific type of back pain that involves symptoms that begin in the low back and follows the path of the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in your body, to your feet. When the sciatic nerve is affected, the pain is often described as “shooting,” “tingling,” or “burning” and can affect one or both of your legs.

How do back pain and sciatica develop?

General back pain typically develops as the result of an injury. This can be due to repetitive straining motions, such as leaning down multiple times throughout the day to pick up a toddler, or a more serious, sudden trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident. Underlying conditions, such as herniated discs, can also cause immense pain and can lead to sciatica. Degenerative disc disease is a common condition resulting in back pain, which can be caused by poor posture or obesity. Those with this condition typically report dull, aching pains in their lower back.

Sciatica’s technical name is “lumbar radiculopathy.” People who develop this condition are generally between the ages of 30 and 50. Many different types of injuries can cause the development of sciatica, including arthritis, bone spurs, or any other injury that impacts the sciatic nerve. This may include a sports-related collision, a harsh fall, or something that occurs gradually over time through overuse, repetition, or general “wear and tear.”

Seek help for back pain and sciatica through physical therapy:

Back pain and sciatica are both completely treatable through physical therapy. Your physical therapist will create a treatment plan for you that is dependent upon your diagnosis. The early stages of your physical therapy treatments will focus on pain relief, which may include ice and heat therapies, manual therapy, light exercises, or posture improvement.

Once you begin to improve, your physical therapist will expand on your exercises and stretches, focusing on increasing your strength and range of motion. For example, aquatic physical therapy is a form of physical therapy treatment used for the treatment for back pain and sciatica, because it is a low-impact exercise that still allows you to stay active and regain strength.

If you are suffering from sciatica, your physical therapist will implement specific exercises into your treatment plan to decrease stress on the sciatic nerve. The overall goal of physical therapy for back pain and sciatica is to alleviate pain, improve range of motion, and strengthen the body so you can get back to doing your normal daily activities without worrying about pain or discomfort.

If you are experiencing back pain or sciatica, contact Bay State Physical Therapy to schedule a consultation with one of our physical therapists. No matter how severe the pain may be, we will help you get on the road to recovery as quickly as possible. 

FAQs

How do I know if my back pain is serious?

The pain you experience in your back may either be acute or chronic, depending on how it was sustained. Acute pain means that it lasts for a short time and is usually severe. Chronic pain means that it lasts generally three months or longer and it can either cause dull or severe persistent pain. The pain you experience is typically either rooted in your back muscles or the bones in your spine. If your pain is severe enough to hinder you from doing daily tasks, if it suddenly worsens, or if it has lasted longer than three months, then it is time to seek the help of a physical therapist.

How do I get relief from back pain?

You can treat your back pain with physical therapy. Physical therapy can address back pain by helping to improve your range of motion, strengthening the muscles in the affected areas, and using targeted massage to reduce tension. In many situations, working with a physical therapist to improve can significantly reduce the severity of your back pain, and may even help you avoid more invasive procedures, such as surgery.

What is the best physical therapy treatment for back pain?

Your physical therapist will design a treatment plan based on your specific needs. Your individualized treatment plan will incorporate the best methods possible for relieving your pain, facilitating the healing process, and restoring function and movement to the affected area(s) of your back. Your initial appointment will consist of a comprehensive evaluation, which will help your physical therapist discover which forms of treatment will be best for the orthopedic, neurologic, or cardiovascular condition you are experiencing. The main stages of your plan will focus on pain relief, which may include any combination of ice and heat therapies, manual therapy, posture improvement, targeted stretches and exercises, or any other treatment that your physical therapist may deem fit. While there is no singular method for relieving back pain, your physical therapist will make sure you receive the best treatments for your needs.

How do you relieve back pain without drugs?

While medication is easy, it only helps your pain subside for a short amount of time. Over time, certain drugs can cause some unfavorable side effects, and in some cases, they can be habit-forming. With NSAIDs, you run the risk of blood clots, heart attack, or stroke. With corticosteroids, you run the risk of cataracts, high blood sugar levels, and bone loss. Luckily, there is a much safer and healthier alternative to treating persistent back pain: physical therapy. At your initial consultation, your physical therapist will ask you several questions regarding your medical history, lifestyle, and painful area(s). This information will assist your physical therapist in creating the best treatment plan for you and your specific needs, so you can be provided with long-term results.