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When do you know that it’s Sciatica vs. general back pain?

Back pain 12 1

Sciatica, or lumbar radiculopathy, is quite common, though different from general back pain, and typically affects people between the ages of 30-60. It can be highly uncomfortable, but good news- it is reasonably easy to diagnose. Sciatica has many causes. The most common reason is a pinch or other damage to the sciatic nerve, which begins at the lower back and extends down the posterior buttocks, legs, and into the feet. It may affect just one side of the body or both simultaneously.

Our physical therapy patients often describe sciatica symptoms as a feeling of stinging, burning, or stabbing that travels down the lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet. Symptoms may also include numbness or weakness.  

Several conditions that can lead to Sciatica are bone spurs, arthritis, or prolonged sitting during long car trips. These can all affect the sciatic nerve. Injuries or anything that occurs gradually over time through overuse, repetition, or general age-related wear and tear can also lead to Sciatica pain.

However it feels to you, there are options to get relief!

  • Movement Sitting for prolonged periods or extended time in an ill-fitting chair may aggravate painful symptoms. Get out and stretch! Move your body as often as possible- Physical Therapists recommend getting up at least once every quarter-hour, though more is better.
  • Walk!Again, movement is king. Short walks as tolerated may help get blood and fluids into the tissues, relax tense muscles.
  • Gentle stretching – while seated upright, gently extend the legs in front of you while flexing the feet. Another stretch to try while lying on your back is gently pulling the knees into the chest using both hands. Do this until you feel a comfortable stretch in the middle and lower back. Avoid stretching into pain.
  • Application of heat or cold therapy – A simple guideline is to apply heat before stretching to warm up the muscles and use ice as needed to soothe activity-related flare-ups.                                    

Your physical therapist will create an individualized plan that gets you back to doing the activities that you love while moving pain-free.

Is Sciatica an Emergency? Should I call 911?

Sciatica is typically not an emergency, and the gold standard of treatment is Physical Therapy. If, however, you have any of the following symptoms, you should immediately seek emergency care:

  1. Loss of ability to move the leg or significant and sudden changes to feel your toes/foot
  2. Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  3. Numbness or tingling between your legs or around your buttocks. This is also known as saddle paresthesia. It is not the same as pain down the back of your thighs.

When should I seek Physical Therapy?

If you are experiencing:

  • Pain with prolonged sitting or standing
  • Aching or burning pain to your low back, buttock, or thigh
  • Limitations in the way you bend or move because you are anxious about injury
  • Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep 

We can help!

Speak with an expert Physical Therapist at our Old Town, Lansing location. Our goal at Healthy Consumer Physical therapy is to help you live life to the fullest- free of pain! 

Chris S

Dr. Chris Sovey

Healthy Consumer PT

"We Help Adults 40+ Living With Pain, Stiffness, Or Loose Joints Get Healthy, Age Stronger, And Get Back To The Activities They Love, Even If Past Treatments Have Failed"


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