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You don’t know what you did but this pain in your leg is driving you crazy. Sometimes it’s a sharp pain like a knife that keeps you from being able to just sit down. Other times it’s just a deep ache that bothers you while just sitting down to have dinner. In other instances it seems fine except certain positions bother it and you can’t seem to figure it out.

You go to a doctor and they tell you have a herniated disc. They tell you to go to physical therapy and if that doesn’t help you, you may need surgery.

You look it up on the internet and talk to freinds, and everyone is telling you horror stories of having surgery and the back pain doesn’t get better or other problems that crop up after surgery. What other treatments are there?

Massage therapy can be a very important complement to other treatments for sciatica and provide relief as well to help heal sciatica.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a symptom of pain down the leg and involves impingement of the sciatic nerve. The impingement can occur from bulging discs, narrowing of the spinalBulging Discs canal, soft tissue, or irritation of spinal ligaments.

The ability of massage therapy to be helpful in sciatic pain depends on what is impinging the sciatic nerve, such as spinal narrowing or disc material, and the severity of these conditions.

How Does Massage Help Sciatica?

Treating the soft tissue around the spinal joints can be essential in healing sciatic pain. The discs can go back into place and anything that can help facilitate this process is essential. 

Massage can help this process by helping to decrease muscle tension. Excess muscle tension places compressive forces on the discs which will make it difficult for the discs to go back into place.

When the body sustains injury there is a compensation pattern that happens in an attempt to releive pressure to the area. The problem with this mechanism is that it stays even after the area is healed and can further complicate the problem. Massage therapy can address these compensation patterns. 

The muscle tissue will be heavily involved with disc problems affecting the sciatic nerve. This will create excess muscle tension and trigger points. This often makes the pain worse and can even be part of the pain that is felt down the leg. 

Treatment of trigger points in the lumbar and hip muscles can be very important and necessary to help these conditions. 

Piriformis Syndrome

massage therapy for sciaticaThe sciatic nerve exits at the lumbar vertebrae L4-S3, travels through the pelvis and exits at the greater sciatic notch. On some people the sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis muscle. Therefore, a tight piriformis muscle can impinge the sciatic nerve. Symptoms of sciatic nerve impingement by the piriformis generally will be local to the buttock region and does not extend pass the knee. 

Massage therapy aimed at decreasing tension in the piriformis muscle can greatly help this condition. Also helping to decrease tension in other muscles of the thigh and pelvis may be helpful and necessary. Muscle tension in other muscles of the pelvis can put stress on the piriformis muscle, adding to the pulling force on the piriformis muscle and therefore adding to the impingement of the sciatic nerve.

Massage Therapy as Part of a Team

In my experience massage can definitely be very helpful for sciatica. However, because this problem has many possible causes and the usefulness of massage depends on what is causing it and the severity of what is causing it, it is extremely important that the massage therapist is experienced and knowledgable about this condition. It is also important that they work as part of a team with other medical professionals. The process of working with the surrounding muscle tissue can be delicate. Although working with muscle spasm can be helpful, care needs to be taken because if the spasm is released too soon this can make the pain worse. Overall, using massage therapy and addressing the soft tissue goes underlooked and can be very useful in addressing sciatica.



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 Matthew Snow is a Licensed Massage Therapist in Cos Cob, CT. If you would like to schedule or make an appointment call (203) 936-6379 or email