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Back Pain or Sciatica? What's the Difference?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, back pain is the most commonly reported pain across the nation, and one out of every four Americans has experienced back pain in the past three months. Back pain usually results from an injury or strain, however, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if the discomfort you are experiencing is general back pain or sciatica.

Sciatica, a specific type of back pain caused by a nerve issue, is extremely common. Whether you are suffering from general back pain or sciatica, working with a physical therapist can help relieve the discomfort in your back and restore your health. Physical therapy may even eliminate your need for harmful painkilling drugs, such as opioids, or an invasive surgical procedure. If you are experiencing back pain, Contact Us Today at 1-888-929-7677 for help in Schuylkill or Luzerne Counties, PA. Our skilled physical therapists will create an individualized treatment regimen for you, focusing around your recovery.

What’s the difference between general back pain and sciatica?

Back pain

“Back pain” is a term that can be caused by an array of different conditions. For example, you may experience back pain due to poor posture, a motor vehicle accident, or a lifting injury. The treatment plan that your physical therapist sets up for you, will depend on how you developed the back pain, in addition to its exact location and your past medical history.

Back pain can be described as acute, meaning it is short-term, or chronic, meaning it is long-term (typically lasting for three months or longer.) The pain you experience can be rooted in your back muscles or the bones in your spine.


Sciatica is a specific type of back pain that is reported as being highly uncomfortable. However, it is also fortunately very simple to diagnose. People with sciatica experience pain along their sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in your body.

The sciatic nerve begins at your lower back and then splits at the base of your spine to extend further down to your buttocks, legs, and finally to the bottom of each foot. The sciatic nerve can become “pinched,” which causes a “shooting,” “stinging,” or “burning” sensation in your lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet.

How do back pain and sciatica develop?

General back pain typically develops as the result of an injury. This can be due to repetitive straining motions, such as leaning down multiple times throughout the day to pick up a toddler, or a more serious, sudden trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident. Underlying conditions, such as herniated discs, can also cause immense pain and can lead to sciatica.

Degenerative disc disease is a common condition resulting in back pain, which can be caused by poor posture or obesity. Those with this condition typically report dull, aching pains in their lower back.

Sciatica’s technical name is “lumbar radiculopathy.” People who develop this condition are generally between the ages of 30 and 50. Many different types of injuries can cause the development of sciatica, including arthritis, bone spurs, or any other injury that impacts the sciatic nerve. This may include a sports-related collision, a harsh fall, or something that occurs gradually over time through overuse, repetition, or general “wear and tear.”

Seek help for back pain and sciatica through physical therapy:

Back pain and sciatica are both completely treatable through physical therapy. Your physical therapist will create a treatment plan for you that is dependent upon your diagnosis. The early stages of your physical therapy treatments will focus on pain relief, which may include ice and heat therapies, manual therapy, light exercises, or posture improvement. And the best part is our physical therapists are ready to provide in-home physical therapy to you so that you can get back to the activities that you love.

Once you begin to improve, your physical therapist will expand on your exercises and stretches, focusing on increasing your strength and range of motion. These are all improvements that will naturally bring you confidence to play with your grandchildren again, or go for walks or out to dinner with family and friends without pain.

If you are suffering from sciatica, your physical therapist will implement specific leg stretches into your treatment plan to loosen the sciatic nerve. The overall goal of physical therapy for back pain and sciatica is to bring back your quality of life by alleviate pain, improve range of motion, and strengthen the body so you can get back to doing your normal daily activities without worrying about pain or discomfort.

If you are experiencing back pain or sciatica, contact Achieva Rehabilitation to schedule an evaluation with one of our physical therapists. You'll be happy to know that our In-Home Physical Therapy Program is a better way to deliver's often much more valuable than going to a PT clinic.

No matter how severe the pain may be, we will help you get on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.

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