Can Physical Therapy Help With Sciatica?

August 13, 2021

Physical therapy is often a viable pain management solution for people who are suffering from sciatica. It’s important to keep in mind the broadness of the term sciatica. Pressure on or pinching of the sciatic nerve can occur for a number of reasons.

A small minority of people have severe sciatica that eventually requires a surgical solution, but many more have temporary or intermittent sciatica that can be managed through physical therapy, exercise and pain management injections.

Diagnosing the Cause of Sciatica Is Important for Developing an Effective Pain Management Plan

Sciatic pain can often be effectively relieved through non-invasive and non-surgical treatments like physical therapy, but the underlying problem must be understood before any effective plan can be developed.

Sciatica may be a result of degenerated or herniated discs, serious injuries like those caused in an auto accident, bone spurs or even nerve damage from conditions like diabetes. Many degenerative conditions or injuries can cause the sciatic nerve to become pinched, which can lead to radiating pain in the legs, thighs and lower back.

Age, obesity, certain jobs and pre-existing conditions that cause nerve damage are often listed as sciatica risk factors. Older people are more likely to develop bone spurs or suffer disc herniation. Excessive weight can put stress on the spine and contribute to pinched nerves. Jobs that require heavy lifting or prolonged periods of sitting are potential risk factors. People with sedentary lifestyles are generally more likely to develop sciatica.

Physical therapy can have a positive impact on both the pain, the source of the pain and factors that might be contributing to your sciatica. A physical therapist can perform a number of manual therapies and recommend exercise and rehabilitation plans to strengthen muscles that can help alleviate sciatica pain.

Pursuing physical therapy during your recovery from sciatica pain provides several benefits. Even if physical therapy isn’t the primary form of treatment, it can still play an important role in increasing strength, stability and range of motion. The strengthening that comes from physical therapy also makes future sciatica flareups less likely.

Physical Therapy Isn’t a Turn-Key Solution for Sciatica Pain Relief

Physical therapy isn’t exactly like a pain management injection. Physical therapy requires a commitment and effort on your part – in some cases a lot of effort.

A commitment to following through on a physical therapy regimen can potentially provide longer-term relief than any single injection or surgery. Some physical therapy patients are able to build and maintain the muscles necessary to prevent future sciatica flare ups.

Physical therapy may not be a guaranteed way to deal with your sciatica, but if your sciatic pain can be reduced with physical therapy it is likely a worthwhile investment of your time and effort.

Types of Physical Therapy that Might Be Recommended for Sciatica

Physical therapists will likely recommend mobilization and exercise therapies for managing your sciatica. The physical therapy plan they recommend will be tailored for you based on your current health, strength, pain levels and the cause of your sciatica.

Isometric and isotonic exercises designed to strengthen low back, hip, leg and abdomen muscles are frequently prescribed.

During isometric exercises you contract muscles without moving joints, such as plank exercises. Isotonic exercises use constant loads or weights to contract muscles, frequently with resistance bands.

If your sciatica pain is work related you might benefit from functional retraining, which usually involves slowly reintroducing some of the activities causing your sciatica using the proper techniques.

Nerve glides, a physical therapy treatment in which the sciatic nerve is brought into and out of tension, might also be used to gradually improve mobility and alleviate pain. A physical therapist may also perform manual joint mobilization and manipulation to help restore the joint’s movement and provide pain relief.

Myofascial release, which is similar to a massage, can be used to mobilize shallow lower back, leg or hip tissues and help reduce sciatica related to muscle tension or spasms.

If your sciatica is related to either a physically demanding job or a job where you’re sitting all day, your physical therapist may also work with you on gait training. That means analyzing your current problematic gait and helping you reorient to healthy gait patterns.


At Non-Surgical Orthopaedic in Marietta and Carrolton, we’re committed to offering a comprehensive suite of non-surgical solutions for people experiencing all types of chronic or acute pain, including sciatica.

In addition to providing effective pain management injections, we also work with highly skilled local physical therapists to provide a complete sciatica treatment plan that helps you eliminate pain and regain your mobility.

Call us at 770-421-1420 to schedule an appointment.