by Lee H. Kole, PT

Do you or someone you care about experience pain in your low back? Do you have tingling, weakness or numbness in your legs or feet, especially along the back (posterior aspect)?

Sciatica is a general term that is used to describe pain or other related symptoms associated with the largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve. Symptoms can vary greatly from a mild ache, to sharp, excruciating pain or even a complete lack of pain; instead, numbness prevails. Causation is varied and typically requires a detailed subjective history as well as physical examination by a qualified physical therapist or specialist such as a physiatrist (physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor). In some cases, further diagnostic testing such as X-ray, Electromyography (EMG), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and/or Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan can also help in determining the location and extent of nerve damage.

Since most people know that sciatica and other disorders involving the lumbar spine (low back) are extremely common (experts estimate that >80% of the population will seek help from a physician for low back pain at some point in life), proper assessment and treatment is often delayed until it becomes worse and more debilitating at which point the patient has essentially no option, but to seek help. They then lose time from work, family and personal time while running up a long list of expenses due to requiring more emergent care, diagnostics, oral medications, injections or even surgical intervention (note that referral to physical therapy is standard protocol for most cases and extensive physical therapy typically ensues in the post-operative phase). Note that without treatment, permanent nerve damage can occur. Please be sure to seek immediate medical attention if you have significant numbness in the affected leg, weakness or have changes in bowel and/or bladder function.

Caught early by a skilled physical therapist, proper treatment and education can begin addressing all individual specific components such as muscular imbalances, weakness, reduced flexibility, posture and body mechanics. Most sciatic issues if they present early enough can be mostly resolved within 8-12 physical therapy sessions combined with diligence in your home exercise program and implementing the needed postural and body mechanics tips with activities of daily living (ADL’s).

If you or someone you care about has been putting off getting checked out, call your local physical therapist today.

Lee H. Kole, PT is President and CEO of BreakThrough Physical Therapy, Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. His mission is to help save as many people from extensive medical expenses and treatment as possible. He and his team take a proactive and comprehensive approach to all lumbar and sciatic cases.

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