Your spine doctor may refer you to a physical therapist as part of your sciatica treatment plan. Physical therapy typically involves passive and active therapies. Passive physical therapy refers to treatments (eg, heat/cold packs) administered by the physical therapist and active physical therapy requires your “active” participation (eg, therapeutic exercise).

Why is physical therapy beneficial for people with sciatica?

Because it can help decrease inflammation and pain, improve physical function, and prevent recurrence of sciatica symptoms. Plus, your physical therapy program may teach you how to improve your posture and often involves a home exercise program for long-term improved physical health.

Passive physical therapy may include therapeutic exercise movements to increase range of motion.

Physical Therapy for Sciatica: What to Expect

During your first appointment, the therapist reviews your medical history, lifestyle habits, and asks you questions about your sciatica experience. Your physical therapist may ask when sciatica started, if an injury or specific event triggered sciatic symptoms, and ask about your activity level before low back and leg pain developed.

Next, your physical therapist may ask you to perform a series of simple movements to evaluate your range of motion, posture, reflexes and movement ability. You may be asked to bend side-to-side, flex forward at the waist, extend backward, or twist at the waist. The therapist observes your walking as well. This part of your exam provides your therapist with a baseline assessment of your current condition and how sciatica affects your physical functional ability to perform activities of daily life.

Then your physical therapist combines what he/she learned from your evaluation and crafts an organized physical therapy program for you. Your passive and active therapy program is designed to include realistic goals you want to reach. As back and leg pain recedes and becomes more manageable, your therapy plan may be modified to include different types of stretches and exercises.

Like many treatment options, physical therapy is not a quick fix and may require several weeks to achieve the desired results. Your treatment plan will likely involve a mix of clinic visits with your physical therapist in addition to an at-home exercise regimen.

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