Updated: May 7
Sciatica can be an incredibly painful condition, as it impinges the sciatic nerve in the lower lumbar vertebrae. It causes intense, radiating pain down the affected leg, and although most people only experience it on one side, others are unlucky enough to have sciatica on both legs. Many people wonder if massage therapy is a good treatment option for sciatica. Read below to find out all you need to know about sciatica and how massage therapy can help with the symptoms.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is caused by an impingement of the sciatic nerve in the lower lumbar. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and runs from the lower lumbar spine, deep into the glutes, then the back of the legs and into the heel and sole of the foot. Common causes for sciatica are bulging disks or other injuries to the lower back, repetitive strain injuries, natural wearing down of the tissues and bones, as well as spinal stenosis and bone spurs. Herniated disks, or bulging disks, push out from the outer ring that usually holds it in, causing pressure on the nearby nerves.
Massage therapists are allowed to only work with the fascial and muscle tissues, and therefore are not permitted to treat sciatica. Sciatica will be diagnosed by either your primary care provider or chiropractic doctor, and only they are allowed to treat it. However, massage can be a beneficial alternative therapy to help with muscular tension, which may have a positive impact on your other treatments that you may receive. Massage therapy also helps with reducing the pain sensations in the body, so you may not have to take prescription narcotics, or not as much of them. Using massage as an alternative therapy option for the treatment of your sciatica will also help reduce any compensation patterns that may result of long-term suffering from sciatica.
Is It Sciatica?
Many people self-diagnose themselves with sciatica, but true sciatica must be diagnosed by a licensed physician or chiropractor. Why? Because where the nerve is impinged will determine whether it’s truly sciatica. Because the sciatic nerve runs from the lower lumbar spine down into the gluteals, it can also become impinged by another muscle called the piriformis, and so called piriformis syndrome. Symptoms can be very similar for these two conditions, creating pain, numbness, and tingling down one or both legs. Weakness in the affected leg is generally only present with sciatica though, but has been known to also accompany some serious piriformis syndrome cases.
Although massage therapists cannot treat sciatica, they can treat piriformis syndrome. Even if the patient has been diagnosed with sciatica, our therapists will often still work the piriformis muscle to ensure that it is functioning properly to decrease any potential symptoms that the piriformis muscle may be adding in addition to the sciatica symptoms. During this treatment, the massage therapist will massage and knead the gluteus muscles to warm them up, and then find and pinpoint the piriformis muscle. Some therapists will use a technique called neuromuscular therapy to help further facilitate healing and a reduction in muscular tension. This is when the therapist applies a comfortable amount of pressure to the muscle and will have you bend your knee at a ninety-degree angle and then move your leg slowly from side-to-side. They may slightly move their hand or elbow to address different areas of the muscle, but they will be micro-movements as the piriformis muscle is quite small.
Although massage therapy cannot treat sciatica, it is a wonderful treatment for piriformis syndrome. It can also greatly help with symptom management of sciatica. If you’re wondering if you have sciatica, we suggest that you visit your primary care provider or chiropractor so they can evaluate you.
We’d love your feedback! Do you have sciatica? How has massage therapy helped you, or what questions do you have? If you’d like to get started reducing your pain symptoms from sciatica or piriformis syndrome, call our office and schedule an appointment today!