Caucasian man physical therapist examining leg muscles of Caucasian male senior with text "PT Helps Sciatica"

Sciatica is nerve pain from irritation of the sciatic nerve, located in the lower back and running down the back of each leg. Sciatica can cause tingly, numbness, or weakness, making the normal task of walking difficult and painful.  As many as 40% of people will get it during their lives, and it becomes more frequent with age. For older adults, sciatica pain may lead to limited functionality and increased chances of accidental falls.

How effective is physical therapy?

Research shows that physical therapy must be active and individualized to be fully effective. In one study, 180 patients who qualified for surgery due to sciatica were randomized into a professionally guided exercise therapy group or a general cardiovascular fitness group. The physical therapy group received only five visits over eight weeks. After one year, the physical therapy group showed greater improvement in most measured outcomes including pain, functional status, and findings from their doctors. The physical therapy group spent less time off work and they were 20% more likely to report sustained recovery. Study participants in the cardio exercise group proved five times more likely to elect surgery than the patients who received some physical therapy.

Why is physical therapy beneficial for people with sciatica?

Because it can help reduce inflammation and pain, improve physical functions, and help prevent recurrence of sciatica symptoms. Physical therapy can ensure that the problem is not aggravated by poor posture and ergonomics. If surgery is required, physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process, ensuring that exercise type and intensity are appropriate during the recovery stage.

Most insurances don’t require a physician’s referral for physical therapy treatment. Give us a call or click here to schedule a new evaluation!  


  1. Hicks G, Gaines J, Shardell M, et al. Associations of back and leg pain with health status and functional capacity of older adults: findings from a retirement community back pain study. Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2008; 59: 1306-1313.
  2. Nordin M, Belague F. Exercise may be beneficial for patients with chronic, severe sciatica who would normally qualify for surgery. Evid Based Med. 2013; 18 (2): 63-64.
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