|Photo: John Ragal
There are multiple causes of sciatica or back pain that radiates down the leg(s). The most serious cause of sciatica is when a nerve root in the spine is being pinched by a bulging disc or by arthritis-type changes in the spine itself. Not only can this cause shooting pain into the leg(s) but also weakness in the leg and changes in the sensation in the leg (for example numbness or tingling in a portion of the leg or foot). If this is the case, it would be diagnosed through MRI and treatment options would be recommended by your doctor.
Physical Therapists treat many patients with such sciatica. The key to relieving this type of sciatica is to stop the compression of the nerve root in the spine where it is being pinched. This can be done through positioning and exercises. If you are completely compliant with Physical Therapy and get no relief from any sciatica symptoms, then your doctor may try injections (usually with Cortisone) to provide some pain relief. This is a steroid, which provides an anti-inflammatory response. If you do not want injections, you may be prescribed oral medications for pain relief and/or anti-inflammation.
Other conservative treatments for sciatica are going to a chiropractor, mechanical lumbar traction (requires a MD prescription) or getting acupuncture. Also some people get relief from inversion tables. Aquatic Physical Therapy (doing therapy inside a swimming pool) is another helpful tool for patients with sciatica.