Sciatica and low back pain have many similarities but differ primarily in where the pain is located and where the pain originates from. The low back, or the lumbar spine, is a structure of interconnecting joints, bones, muscles, and ligaments that work together to provide flexibility, strength, and support. Low back pain is localized pain and discomfort above the inferior gluteal folds and below the costal margin with or without leg pain. Sciatica is pain that radiates down the back of the leg towards the foot.
The low back or the lumbar spine is a structure of interconnecting joints, bones, muscles, and ligaments that work together to provide flexibility, strength, and support. Low back pain is localized pain and discomfort above the inferior gluteal folds and below the costal margin with or without leg pain.
Low back pain can also be defined as pain that happens posteriorly in the area between the proximal thighs and the lower rib margin. Non-specific low back pain is the most common type of back pain and is described as low back pain not related to identifiable, known specific pathology such as lumbar spine fracture, infection, osteoporosis, tumor, infection, inflammatory disorder, structural deformity, cauda equina syndrome, or radicular syndrome.
The two categories of low back pain are mechanical pain and radicular pain. Mechanical pain or axial pain radiates from the ligaments, bones, muscles, or facet joints and sacroiliac joints. Radicular pain is due to an inflamed or impinged spinal nerve root, can be related to sciatica, and is experienced on the side of the body.
The three subtypes of low back pain include acute, sub-acute, and chronic low back pain. Acute low back pain is pain that lasts for less than six weeks, sub-acute low back pain lasts between six and twelve weeks, and chronic back pain lasts for one month or more. Most acute low back pain occurs when you sustain an injury to your ligaments, joints, muscles, or discs. Your body responds to an injury by activating an inflammatory healing response.
Sciatica can also be a cause of back pain. Sciatica is not a diagnosis, but a description of symptoms such as weakness, tingling, or numbness that goes down the low back through the sciatic nerve located in the back of your leg. Common causes of sciatica include a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.
Whether you are experiencing low back pain due to sciatica or another medical reason, visit Specialized Physical Therapy to reduce it through manual therapy at the clinic along with exercises to perform at home to keep it under check.
The symptoms of low back pain include:
- Dull or achy pain contained in the low back
- Burning or stinging pain that travels from the low back to behind your thighs (it can travel to your lower legs or feet, and if followed by a tingling or numbing sensation, it may be due to sciatica
- Muscle tightness and spasms in the pelvis, hips, and low back
- Pain that becomes worse after standing or sitting in one position for several hours
- Difficulty walking, sitting down from a standing position, or standing up straight
The causes of low back pain include:
- Strains (stiffness and pain in the lower back, including muscle spasms)
- Herniated disc or ruptured or slipped disc compresses the nerve, and this can increase with age
- Sciatica can happen with a herniated disc if it compresses the sciatic nerve
- Spinal stenosis (numbness, weakness, or cramping)
- Abnormal spine curvatures caused by scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis
- Arthritis (joint inflammation)
- Fibromyalgia (long-term pain and tenderness in the tendons, muscles, and joints)
- Spondylitis (joint inflammation between the spinal bones)
- Spondylosis (a degenerative disorder can lead to loss of normal spinal function and structure)
- Kidney and bladder problems
- Ovarian cysts
- Uterine fibroids
Specialized Physical Therapy has the expertise, resources, and knowledge to provide you with a personalized treatment plan based on your diagnosis after a comprehensive physical examination performed by our trained physical therapist. Our physical therapist will start by asking you about your current symptoms, activity level, sleep habits, posture, and recent and previous injuries.
Our physical examination consists of a few essential tests to help us locate the source of low back pain. Palpation locates muscle spasms or tightness and tender areas or joint abnormalities, a neurological exam and range of motion exam tests for mobility, a reflex test evaluates reduced muscle strength and weakened reflexes, and a leg raise test detects if low back pain is due to a herniated disc.
Treatment and Exercises
Your treatment plan will consist of a personalized Home Exercise Program (HEM) designed to treat and reduce pain and prevent its reoccurrence. Your workout routine will include stretches, strengthening exercises, and low-impact aerobics.
We will also base the type of exercises you should perform based on the root of your low back pain. Our physical therapist may instruct you to perform a repeated movement if your low back is due to an irritated or compressed nerve caused by spinal stenosis or a disk bulge.
If you experience pain with certain movements, we recommend stabilization exercises to retrain the deep muscles and correct spinal and abdominal muscles. If you feel stiffness in the spine, we will suggest mobilization or manipulation techniques. Manipulation uses short and rapid thrusts over a joint while your body is in a certain position, whereas mobilization uses slow and gentle motions.
If you are dealing with low back pain or sciatica, visit Specialized Physical Therapy to schedule an appointment by calling us today at 201-773-881 or email us HERE.