Sciatica - overview, symptoms

Sciatic nerve pain (commonly referred to as sciatica) is the compression of the sciatic nerve which starts in the low back and extends into both legs. Pain originates in the lower back and proceeds through the buttock and down the sciatic nerve in the back of each leg.


  • Constant or intermittent pain in one or both legs
  • Pain that is worse when sitting
  • Leg pain that is more burning or searing than dull ache
  • Pain so severe you struggle to walk or stand up.

What does sciatica feel like?

Sciatica can range in intensity from low grade ache to severe debilitating pain that keeps you from working or doing the things you love. The pain can feel like electric sharp stabbing pains, deep aches, numbness and tingling, and can even mimic joint and muscle pains in the leg.

What causes sciatic nerve pain?

There are multiple causes of sciatic nerve pain. It can start without any probable cause or be exacerbated by a strenuous event or activity. Most of the time it is not just one event that causes a compression of the sciatic nerve. We typically find that it is prolonged poor positioning, or repeated movements in the wrong direction that create an imbalance in the spine. This imbalance is what leads to injury.

Do I need an X-ray or MRI?

An X-ray will not give you much information about the sciatic nerve. A MRI does assist in determining if there is anything more serious going on, but this is usually not the case. Though an MRI can determine if there is a disc bulge or herniation that may be compressing the sciatic nerve, a physical therapy evaluation can do the same.  One important difference is that an MRI cannot determine how a disc bulge or herniation will change with different movements. A physical therapist will be able to prescribe movements and exercises to reduce pressure on the nerve and allow for healing. An MRI can often lead to more referrals and more expensive medical costs.

Sciatica treatment options

Sciatica is often recurrent, meaning it comes back. That is why it is imperitive that you learn to manage and prevent it. This course of action looks different for each patient but often a good option is to visit your local physical therapist. They will be able to develop a custom treatment program for you, which will be geared towards ending sciatic nerve pain completely, not just dulling the pain you are experiencing right now.

What does physical therapy treatment for sciatica look like?

First, a thorough evaluation must be completed to determine the root cause, whether it be posture, poor body mechanics, weakness, muscle imbalance etc.. Determining the most appropriate movements, stretches and exercises to restore function is a big part of what we do here at Rise. Sometimes, the body needs a little nudge to get moving in the right direction so we also utilize manual therapy techniques. These techniques allow your body to get moving safely and efficiently.

Our end goal is that you are able to walk away pain-free in the short term and also possess the know-how to avoid sciatica in the future.

About Rise Physical Therapy

Hi, and welcome to Rise Physical Therapy.

Rise exists because we believe there is a demand for honest and ethical therapy that truly makes a difference in people's lives. After years of working in healthcare, we realized that the industry had lost it's focus on the patient. So we decided to start our own clinic and focus on providing our patients the very best in one-on-one physical therapy. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Thanks for swinging by the site, and we hope to see you soon.

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Most common questions about physical therapy

1. What is physical therapy (PT)? – Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, are experts in the musculoskeletal system, meaning we know your muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and how they operate as well as anyone. We play a critical role in the recovery and rehabilitation of the injured, hurting, or those suffering chronic conditions. Becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy (the only type of PTs we hire at Rise), requires over seven years of education.

2. Is PT covered by insurance? Almost all insurance plans give you an annual allowance of PT visits. For our current patients, that has typically meant a copay of around $15-$30/visit. Sometimes it’s lower, or even completely covered by insurance. Depending on your plan you might pay a bit more, such as when your plan has a higher deductible. If you are unsure, give us a call and our insurance experts can help you figure it out. You can reach us at (479) 595-8667.

3. Do you need a doctor’s referral for PT?No referral is needed – you can come straight in to see us without having to go to your doctor. Years ago a referral was required, but studies like this showed it was dramatically more effective and cheaper for patients to be sent to PTs first. The state of Arkansas has not required them for over 20 years (since 1997).

4. Does physical therapy work? – The only question that matters. Here’s what a recent large study found: “In the year following their initial complaint to primary providers, the sample of people in the study who went to physical therapy directly spent an average of $1,871, compared to $6,664 for those who were first sent for an MRI. The patients who received physical therapy first were less likely to receive surgery and injections, and they made fewer specialists and emergency department visits within a year of primary consultation.” [link] So not only does it work, it saves you money over the long run.

5. How much does PT cost? – We actually went ahead and ran the numbers on this one. If you include all of our past patients, the average payment after insurance was $19.25. So anywhere from $15 – $30 is a fairly accurate estimate of how much you’d be looking at paying per visit. That said, some patients actually get PT completely covered by insurance so you may end up paying $0.

6. What is the difference between a PT and a chiropractor? – There are quite a few, but the biggest difference is in the way the professions approach the practice of medicine. Physical therapists strictly use evidence-based (scientific) treatments that are focused on healing the patient permanently rather than temporarily dulling pain. At Rise, we are all about educating you on how to treat and address your issues on your own with stretches and exercises. On the other hand, Chiropractors tend to focus on pain relief techniques like spinal manipulation (adjustment) that are performed on an ongoing basis. It just comes down to what you desire in a treatment.

More questions? Read through the rest of our frequently asked questions here or give us a call at (479) 595-8667.