Sciatica can be excruciatingly painful. The word ‘sciatica’ is sometimes used to describe any pain in the lower back, but the term specifically refers to pain along the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve starts from the lower back (the lumbar spine) and runs down the buttocks and the backs of the legs. Sciatica is not a disorder in itself. Sciatic pain is a symptom of a problem related to the sciatic nerve, and can be caused by a herniated disk that presses on the roots of the nerve. Injuries are a common cause for sciatic pain. Massage for sciatica can relieve the pain and prevent further discomfort.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatic pain radiates along the length of the sciatic nerve and often affects the whole area from the buttock down to the back of the leg. Usually the legs are affected one at a time, or the pain in one remains worse than the other. The sensation can range from a sharp pain to a mild ache, but acute sciatic pain can be uncomfortable to the point of debilitating. At its worst it can be described as excruciating pain. Numbness along the length of the sciatic nerve or a tingling sensation is also common. Sitting in the same position for long periods of time can worsen sciatic pain. Some movements can make the pain worse. Mild sciatic pain can go away by itself in a few months, but sciatica can always reappear, making it an unwelcome and unexpected visitor.
The sciatic nerve is responsible for several muscles in the lower parts of the legs. The lumbar spine may press on the roots of the sciatic nerve, as in the case of a herniated disc. There are other possible causes for sciatica, such as lumbar spinal stenosis (the narrowing of parts of your spine), spondylolisthesis (a condition in which a vertebra slips over another vertebra and presses on the nerve), trauma from injury, or other problems in the bones, joints and muscles.
How Massage Can Help Sciatica
Acupuncture and massage have been found helpful for relieving sciatic pain. The Touch Research Institute has researched the effects of massage therapy on pain in a series of studies. A study by Hernandez-Reif, Field, Krasnegor, & Theakston (2001) found that lower back pain was reduced, and range of motion increased, after massage therapy (International Journal of Neuroscience #106, pp131-145). In this study, massage therapy and relaxation treatments were compared for chronic lower back pain. The group that received massage therapy reported less pain, less depression and anxiety, as well as improved sleep, compared to the group that had used relaxation techniques.
Massage relieves pain and can also stimulate circulation, improve mobility, release tension, and help the body to heal itself naturally. Spinal manipulations may increase movement in the lower back and relieve the pain caused by a compressed sciatic nerve. Stretching is another way to release the compression of the nerve roots, and massages that include assisted stretching can be highly effective in relieving sciatic pain.
Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Krasnegor, J., & Theakston, H. (2001). Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 106, 131-145. The Touch Research Institute.
Mayo Clinic: Sciatica. Online article on mayoclinic.com
Mayo Clinic: Massage: Get in touch with its many health benefits. Online article on mayoclinic.com.