Sciatica can severely impact every part of your life–from enjoying downtime in front of the TV to playing the sports you love. Sciatica massage provides a non-interventional option for relieving this pain. Here’s how.
Does massage help sciatica?
Sciatica is a type of pain that stems from inflammation of the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the longest in the human body and runs from the spinal cord, down through the buttocks, all the way into the legs below the knees. Since it affects such a wide area, you may experience pain in your:
- Legs (typically on one side)
- Lower back
You may feel the pain as a throbbing or burning sensation. It’s not uncommon for pregnant women, those with herniated discs, or people who suffer from arthritis to suffer from sciatica pain. It’s also more common in those who don’t work out, are overweight, or are older.
Because this condition can lead to tight muscles in the legs and back, deep-tissue sciatica massages can help you relieve your pain in a number of ways. For example, massage for sciatica pain can:
- Help loosen tight back or leg muscles
- Encourage the release of pain-fighting endorphins that act as natural pain killers
- Promote blood circulation to inflamed areas
As Massage Envy notes, these effects can lead to lasting pain relief. In a study of 400 people with low back pain, weekly massage recipients reported better overall functioning and less pain. A third said their pain was completely or nearly gone (compared to only 4% of the control group). In addition to pain relief, massage can allow you to engage in physical therapy or chiropractic therapy with less pain, so you can reduce the pain at its source.
What types of massage for sciatica pain can I try?
Massage only helps patients who are experiencing sciatica from tight muscles–approximately 20% of sciatica patients. As we’ll talk about in the contraindications section, if you suffer from another cause of sciatica, it could actually exacerbate your pain. That’s why it’s always important to get a diagnosis from a pain specialist before trying any new treatment for your pain.
If your doctor clears you for sciatica massage, there are a number of options you can try. These range from DIY at-home options to professional deep-tissue massages.
Self massage for sciatica
After hearing from their pregnant patients about their sciatica pain, one massage practice put together a quick DIY massage video. Self-massage relies on using tennis balls to release tension, no matter where you are. This whole routine takes only a few minutes.
Over on PainScience, they also show you can use a few other tools to “roll” out this tight area, including your dog’s Kong ball or a foam roller.
Best at-home massager for sciatica
Of course, there are fancier options than just using a tennis ball. The following options range in prices from under $10 to over $100, but all can be used to relieve muscle tension associated with sciatica.
(Note: PainDoctor.com does not endorse, nor do we make any money off the sale of these products. This information is provided for the benefit of patients based on patient reviews. Braces should always be used after consultation with a patient’s doctor.)
The Knobble II is a simple device that provides your hand with more power to dig into pressure points. It also reduces fatigue in your hands from massage.
Supremus Sports’ muscle roller stick is another simple device that can release tension and roll out hard muscle knots. It’s easy to by yourself, or you can have a partner help you roll out sore spots.
For the car or office, this shiatsu neck and back massager from Zen Health is a quick and easy way to relieve tension during the day. It’s also heated, making it great for colder months.
The PureWave CM7 by PADO that provides deep tissue vibrations to dissolve painful knots in your muscles and improve circulation. This is a pricier device, but many online patients rave about its targeted massage functionality and different attachments.
Deep-tissue massage for sciatica
Want to have a professional help out with your sciatica? Deep tissue massage is similar to Swedish massage. During a session, the massage therapist will use pressure to target chronic tension in the deeper areas of your muscles, tensions, and fascia. If you’re suffering from a mild case of sciatica that’s caused by muscle tightness, particularly in the muscles of the lower back, deep tissue massage can help.
Elements Massage notes that: “Working out those knots and tight spots can ease that pressure, and bring relief. Plus, don’t underestimate the power of released endorphins when you’re in pain. These powerful ‘feel good’ hormones that are released during a massage can act as a whole-body pain reducer.”
A massage therapist at ehowhealth demonstrates how she performs this massage for her clients. She also gives suggestions on how to perform this massage on a partner (though care should always be taken before attempting this).
A licensed masseuse can also perform trigger-point therapy to help relieve your pain. Jeff Smoot, vice president of the American Massage Therapy Association, talked with Prevention.com about this therapy. Smoot schedules patients for visits seven to ten days apart, applying pressure to the inflamed areas of the piriformis muscle. He notes that: “When the piriformis muscle gets tight, it pinches the sciatic nerve, causing tingling and numbness down into the leg.”
By applying pressure, massage therapy can help relieve pressure in this muscle and lead to pain relief. However, Smoot does caution that if this intensive therapy doesn’t work, patients should talk to their doctors about another form of therapy rather than continuing with treatments.
How to find the best sciatica massage near me
If you do go the professional route, you can find the best massage therapist near you by:
- Asking your doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations for trained massage therapists in your area
- Looking for therapists who specifically list sciatica massage or experience working with chronic pain patients
- Talking to your friends, family, or support groups for recommendations
- Reading reviews for therapists on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, or HealthGrades
- Finding a certified massage therapist through the American Massage Therapy association website
As Sally Ann Quirke notes on Manage Back Pain, you want to find a massage therapist who has sustained professional training. Quirke notes:
“Massage courses range anywhere from two day intensive courses, to two year courses based on anatomy education and techniques. I would not let a massage therapist – who did not have least fifty days training, exams and qualifications – touch me if I had sciatica!”
Always work closely with a massage therapist who is highly-trained, with a good background in chronic pain conditions like sciatica.
What sciatica massage contraindications should I be aware of?
Before trying sciatica massage, it’s always best to talk to a qualified pain specialist. Your pain may be caused by tight muscles — it is for one in five patients — but it also be caused by a pinched nerve, herniated disc, or other structural issue. And, if massage is applied in these circumstances, it could actually cause other muscles to tense up potentially worsening the original source of your pain.
Further, talk to a doctor immediately if you’re experiencing more severe symptoms, including:
- Pain that is intolerable or unbearable
- Significant muscle weakness or paralysis
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
In these cases, your pain may be pointing to a more serious condition, like a tumor or infection.
What other sciatica treatments are available?
For most cases of sciatica, massage alone won’t completely relieve your pain since it doesn’t address the cause of your pain in the first place. But, as Spine-Health notes: “As one component of a well-rounded treatment plan, it can help alleviate your symptoms while providing you with a relaxing and enjoyable experience.”
One of the other most-used treatments for this type of pain is a TENS unit. In our TENS Unit for Sciatica post, we talk more about how this non-invasive system works, how you can correctly place the TENS unit pads, and the best course of treatment for sciatica pain.
Other treatments for sciatica may include:
- Physical therapy
- At-home exercises and stretches
- Chiropractic care
- Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen
- Muscle relaxers
- Epidural steroid injections
- Surgery, in severe cases
The following video discusses what you can expect if you visit a pain specialist for sciatica. Dr. Scott talks about how doctors make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan tailored to your specific case of sciatica.
If you’re ready to get back to your life with less pain, it’s time to talk to a pain specialist. They’ll be able to advise you on the best massage options, as well as other ways to control your symptoms of sciatica. Sciatica massage can be a valuable part of your treatment plan. The first step is to get a diagnosis and isolate the cause of your pain. Find the nearest pain doctor to you by clicking the button below.