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Can Massage Therapy Help With Sciatica?


Man grabbing the back of his leg in pain.

If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from sciatic nerve pain, then you know just how debilitating and uncomfortable it can be. You may have tried traditional treatments such as medications or physical therapy with limited success, but did you know that massage could be a possible treatment option? In this blog post, we'll discuss the potential benefits of massage for those suffering from sciatic nerve pain, so that you can make an informed decision about whether this might be right for you. Read on to learn more!


What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the name given to a condition characterized by pain in the sciatic nerve. This nerve originates in the lower back and travels through the buttocks and down the back of each leg. Sciatica is often caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve or nerve root.

Graphic of sciatic nerve and the cause of pain

Another condition we see frequently in our clinic is piriformis syndrome [1]. This is a form of sciatica caused by compression of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle. It is a relatively uncommon, but not insignificant, cause of sciatica. This causes pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness down the back of the leg and often into the calf.


Sciatica usually impacts only one side of your body with varying degrees of severity, sometimes including other symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected leg and foot. It can hinder daily activities, making standing, walking, or sitting difficult.


Massage Therapy; Help for Sciatica

Suffering from sciatica pain is not easy. Thankfully, massage therapy can be an all-natural and effective option to help manage the symptoms. It helps by promoting circulation, reducing muscle tension, and releasing endorphins, which are the body’s own natural painkillers.


Research has shown that massage therapy can help reduce pain, increase mobility, and improve the overall quality of life for people with sciatica. According to a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies [2], massage therapy can significantly reduce the intensity and frequency of sciatica pain. The study found that individuals who received massage therapy experienced less pain, improved function, and reduced use of pain medication compared to individuals who received conventional medical care.


Below are a few of the benefits of massage therapy for sciatica that make it such an ideal therapy.

  • Relief from lower back pain: Lower back pain is a top symptom of sciatica, and it can be alleviated through massage therapy. According to a 2014 study published in the Scientific World Journal [3], deep tissue massage is just as effective as anti-inflammatory drugs in reducing lower back pain.

  • Pressure release: Tense muscles can put undue pressure on nerves, which can be relieved through massage therapy. While providing relief, this type of muscle relaxation can sometimes address the underlying cause of sciatica.

  • Increased blood flow: Improved blood circulation to the injured area can aid in recovery [4].

  • Increased range of motion: Massage therapy can improve flexibility and range of motion, addressing another symptom of sciatica, the pain of moving and walking [5].

  • Emotional relief: Massage therapy has the ability to offer a sense of calmness and reduce stress and anxiety. It has also been shown to increase brain serotonin and dopamine, ultimately promoting emotional health.

Types of Massage to Help With Sciatic Pain

There are several massage techniques that can be beneficial for sciatica. Some address muscle contractions, while others address connective tissues. Here is just a sample of the types of massages available for treatment:

  • Deep-tissue massage involves applying slow, deep strokes with firm pressure. This can help release the tension in the muscles that may be compressing the sciatic nerve.

  • Trigger point therapy pinpoints areas of muscle contraction and releases painful areas with static compression. We often use this when treating piriformis syndrome to effectively release the contracted muscle that is irritating the nerve.

  • Neuromuscular massage targets compressed nerves, postural issues, and poor circulation. This can help highlight the dysfunction that is at the root of the problem.

  • Myofascial release applies gentle, sustained pressure to the connective tissue that supports muscles. This can help release the connective tissue that may be irritating the sciatic nerve.

  • Swedish massage employs gentle therapeutic touch to relax muscles and calm your nervous system. This can help you relax and give your body time to reset and heal.

  • Hot stone massage uses heat to warm muscles, which increases blood flow and reduces pain.

What to Expect During a Massage Session

During a massage therapy session for sciatic nerve pain, the therapist will focus on the areas most often associated with the root cause of the pain: the lower back, the buttocks, and the legs. They will pay special attention to the areas where you're feeling the most pain or discomfort. The session will begin with gentle pressure to warm up the muscles, then progress to more specialized techniques to target the troubled areas. Remember, communication is key to any great massage; always inform your therapist about your comfort level and pain intensity.


Self-Care Tips to Help Manage Symptoms

Alongside massage therapy, there are several self-care tips you can follow to help manage sciatica symptoms:

Woman posing in a muscular position

Regular exercise: Strengthening the back and core muscles can help prevent sciatica. Low-impact exercises such as swimming or walking can be beneficial.


Placing an ice pack on client's back

Heat and cold therapy: Alternating between heat and cold on the affected area can help reduce inflammation and reduce pain.

Anatomy of how to sit properly to reduce pain

Good posture: Maintaining good posture, especially when sitting for long periods, can help relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Nerve Release: Releasing nerves can potentially restore normal mechanical function. This can be achieved through the mobilization of the nerves that cause your symptoms, in a process called "flossing." Here is a great example of nerve flossing for sciatic nerve pain from The Medical Group of South Florida.


Massage Can Help

Massage therapy can be a beneficial part of a non-invasive, comprehensive approach to managing sciatic nerve pain. Our licensed massage therapists are highly skilled in different techniques that can help relieve symptoms, improve mobility, and enhance quality of life.


If you are currently dealing with the discomfort of sciatic nerve pain, get relief with one of our licensed massage therapists.


As always, we recommend that you consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment for sciatica.


Anatomy of the sciatic nerve


Resources:

[1] Ahmad Siraj, S., & Dadgal, R. (2022). Physiotherapy for Piriformis Syndrome Using Sciatic Nerve Mobilization and Piriformis Release Cureus, 14(12), e32952. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.32952

[2] Bell J. (2008) Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain, and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 12(3), 281–289. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2008.01.006

[3] Majchrzycki, M., Kocur, P., & Kotwicki, T. (2014). Deep tissue massage and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for low back pain: a prospective randomized trial. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2014, 287597. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/287597

[4] Weerapong, P., Hume, P. A., & Kolt, G. S. (2005). The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 35(3), 235–256. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200535030-00004

[5] Yeun Y. R. (2017). Effectiveness of massage therapy on the range of motion of the shoulder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of physical therapy science, 29(2), 365–369. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.29.365

[6] Hurley, K. (2021, January 27). Sciatica nerve mobilization technique. The Medical Group of South Florida. https://mgsfl.com/sciatica-nerve-mobilization-technique/



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