Back Pain and Leg Pain (Sciatica)

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of low back pain and sciatica (leg pain) vary a great deal. Your pain might be dull, burning, or sharp. You might feel it at a single point or over a broad area. Pain might be accompanied by muscle spasms or stiffness. Sometimes, symptoms can spread into 1 or both legs. There are 3 different types of low back pain:

  • Acute - pain lasting less than 3 months
  • Recurrent - acute symptoms come back
  • Chronic - pain lasting longer than 3 months

Most people who have an episode of acute pain will have at least 1 recurrence. While the actual cause of low back pain isn't often known, symptoms usually resolve on their own. Psycho-social factors, such as self-confidence and a perceived ability to cope with disability, have been shown to be predictors of who might not recover from this pain as expected. We used to believe the cause of low back pain was related directly to the tissues of our body, but are now understanding the condition to be more complex.


How We Evaluate

At Advance Physical Therapy, we will perform a thorough evaluation that includes:

  • A review of your health history.
  • Questions about your specific symptoms.
  • A thorough examination that Includes assessing the quality and quantity of your movements, and any movement behaviors that might put you at risk for delayed recovery.  
  • Tests to identify signs or symptoms that could indicate a serious health problem, such as broken bones or cancer. 
  • Assessment of how you use your body at work, at home, during sports, and at leisure. 

For most cases of low back pain imaging tests, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are not helpful for recovery. For example, in a recently published article comparing patients who received an MRI first vs physical therapy first for low back pain, the patients who received an MRI first spent on average $4,793 more (with similar outcomes in each group). If we suspect that your low back pain might be caused by a serious health condition, we will refer you to other health care professionals for further evaluation.


How We Can Help With Back Pain and Sciatica

We can help you improve or restore mobility and reduce low back pain-in many cases, without expensive surgery or the side effects of medications. If you are having low back pain right now:

  • Stay active, and do as much of your normal routine as possible (bed rest for longer than a day can actually slow down your recovery).
  • If your pain lasts more than a few days or gets worse, schedule an appointment so we can evaluate your pain. 

Since not all low back pain is the same, we tailor your treatment based on your specific symptoms and condition. Once the examination is complete, we will evaluate the results, identify the factors that have contributed to your specific back problem, and design an individualized treatment plan for your specific back problem. Treatments may include:

  • Manual therapy, including spinal manipulation, to improve the mobility of joints and soft tissues
  • Specific strengthening and flexibility exercises
  • Education about how you can take better care of your back
  • Training for proper lifting, bending, and sitting; for doing chores both at work and in the home; and for proper sleeping positions
  • Assistance in creating a safe and effective physical activity program to improve your overall health
  • Use of ice or heat treatments or electrical stimulation to help relieve pain


Information provided by the American Physical Therapy Association.