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What is Sciatica and What Can You Do About It?

Sciatica is a common cause of lower back and leg pain. About 10-40% of us will develop the condition in our lifetime, with the greatest occurrence when we’re in our forties. Even though it can cause severe pain, most cases resolve within weeks with non-surgical treatment through physical therapy.

What is the sciatic nerve?

The sciatic nerve is the body’s largest nerve, originating in the spinal cord and running through the buttocks and back of the thigh before dividing into the tibial and common peroneal nerve at the knee in each leg.

Sciatica and its cause

Sciatica is a condition that results from injury or irritation to the sciatic nerve. This can lead to pain, paresthesia (a tingling or pricking sensation) and/or weakness in the distribution of the nerve.

The most common cause of sciatica is bulging or herniated lumbar discs causing pressure of the nerve roots. But, sciatica can also be caused by other factors, which include:

  • Spinal stenosis from degeneration

  • Spondylolisthesis, when a vertebrae slips forward, moving it out of place

  • Lumbar or pelvic muscle spasm

  • A spinal or paraspinal mass

Do I have Sciatica?

While each person displays varied symptoms of sciatica, there are typical symptoms that characterize the condition:

  • Radiating pain down the back of the leg in a specific distribution

  • Low back pain

  • Muscle weakness

  • Numbness

  • Pain that goes past the knee and into the foot

Diagnosing Sciatica

Your physical therapist diagnoses sciatica through a detailed history and a clinical examination. This is what a thorough examination will look like:

  • A detailed pain history (symptoms, onset, aggravating/easing factors)

  • Sensory assessment

  • Muscle testing

  • Reflex testing

  • Neural tension testing

  • Postural assessment

  • Lumbar spring range of motion

  • Gait assessment

How I can help you manage your Sciatica

Physical therapy actually creates positive effects on relieving sciatica symptoms! Research shows that PT started within 90 days of sciatica symptom onset helped to improve patients’ pain and function. Here are some ways I can help you:

  • I’ll teach you ways to correctly resume or modify your regular activities.

  • I’ll show you the importance of exercise and self-management strategies for pain.

  • I’ll demonstrate proper lifting techniques and the best ergonomics to keep you out of pain.

  • You’ll learn strengthening exercises to promote core strength and lumbar stability.

  • You’ll learn how to stretch your hamstring, piriformis and low back muscles as appropriate.

  • I’ll perform manual therapy - mobilizing your joints, using traction and soft tissue release to address any imbalances.

  • I can utilize many pain management techniques, including heat, cold, dry needling and ultrasound to help ease your pain.

Seeking PT early when you first experience symptoms is ideal and will help speed your recovery.

I’d love to work with you to help you improve your sciatica pain and function and get you back to what you enjoy doing! You can call me at 720-320-4212, or email me at to schedule an appointment.

Here’s to your best health!

Dr. Trish PT, DPT


Physical Therapist & Nutritionist

​Dr. Trish McNutt has over 30 years of experience in Physical Therapy and is dedicated to providing the best care in Denver and Lakewood, CO. She specializes in Orthopedic and Sports Rehabilitation where she utilizes manual therapy, neuromuscular re-education and exercises to accomplish each client's established goals. As a Nutritionist, she works with patients to explore holistic approaches to healing as well.

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