What is sciatica?
Sciatica is the term used to refer to pain along the sciatic nerve, which extends from your lower back, through your hips and buttocks, and down each leg.
Sciatica typically affects only one side of your body and can range in severity from mild to severe. It’s often accompanied by other symptoms, including numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected leg and foot.
Sciatica can interfere with your daily activities and make standing, walking, and even sitting difficult. If you’d like to try an alternative to traditional painkillers, massage may be able to help. It won’t treat the underlying cause of your sciatica, but it may provide some temporary relief from pain.
Read on to learn more about the potential benefits of massage for sciatica and how to try it yourself.
Massage therapy is an effective way to relieve pain. A 2014 study even found that deep tissue massage may be as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for relieving low back pain, which can be a symptom of sciatica.
When it comes to sciatica, massage can help in two ways. Massage’s main benefit is soothing tense muscles. When your muscles are tense, they can put more pressure on your nerves, including your sciatic nerve. Massaging these tense muscles may help to reduce pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Soft tissue massage may also help to increase your pain threshold by stimulating the release of endorphins. Endorphins boost pleasure and relieve pain, causing an increased feeling of well-being. They are also released during sex, exercise, and eating.
There are several types of massage therapy. There isn’t much evidence that one type is more beneficial for sciatica pain than another, so choosing one comes down to personal preference. Here’s a look at some of the most common types.
Deep tissue massage
Deep tissue massage is an aggressive form of massage that uses slow strokes and deep finger pressure to release tension from your muscles and connective tissues.
A 2014 clinical study found that a 30-minute session of deep tissue massage five days a week over two weeks was found to effectively treat low back pain, including sciatica.
Swedish massage doesn’t use as much pressure as deep tissue massage. Instead, flowing, kneading movements are used to stimulate nerve endings in your connective tissue and increase blood flow. It also helps to release general tension and promote relaxation.
Neuromuscular massage uses advanced massage techniques that combine deep tissue pressure and friction to release contracted muscles and relieve tension.
Myofascial release is a technique used to relieve pain that stems from your myofascial tissues — the tough membrane that surrounds and supports your muscles.
Trigger points, which are stiff, immovable areas within the myofascial tissues, cause pain and stiffness. Focused pressure and stretching on the trigger points help to reduce pain and stiffness.
Hot stone massage
Hot stone massage is used to promote relaxation and ease tense muscles. Heated stones are placed on specific parts of your body and may be held by the massage therapist while they use Swedish massage techniques.
If you’d like to give massage for sciatica a try, it’s important to choose a qualified massage therapist who has experience in treating sciatica symptoms.
To find a massage therapist, you can:
- ask your doctor for a referral
- ask friends and family for a recommendation
- search the American Massage Therapy Association’s database
- use the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork’s database
Here are some things to consider when choosing a massage therapist:
- Your personal preference. Does the gender of the massage therapist matter to you? Some people are more comfortable with therapists of the same gender.
- Location. Choose a massage therapist whose practice is close by or easy to get to.
- Hours. You want to make sure that they offer appointments during hours that work with your schedule.
- Cost. Ask how much they charge per session and about any cost-saving incentives, such as a sliding-scale option.
- Credentials. Make sure the professional you choose is licensed to practice massage therapy in your state. Most states regulate the massage therapy profession. Be sure to ask about their credentials.
- Type of massage. Some massage therapists are trained in several types of massage while others focus one or two types. Ask what types of massage they’re most familiar with.
- Experience treating sciatica. Talk to your massage therapist about your sciatica and ask if they have experience in treating sciatic pain.
Before you first session, make sure to tell them about any other health conditions you have. You may also want to check in with your health insurance provider. Some cover massage therapy, especially for an underlying condition.
Massage for sciatica won’t cure the underlying cause of your pain, but it can help to temporarily relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms before starting massage therapy to make sure it’s safe for you.