Illustration of someone bending over in back pain
Illustration of someone bending over in back pain

Massage Therapy for Sciatic Nerve Pain

By Dr. Anthony Odney, D.C.
March 3, 2020

Massage Therapy for Sciatic Nerve Pain

By Dr. Anthony Odney, D.C.
March 3, 2020

Sciatica occurs when your sciatic nerve—which runs from your buttocks down to your feet—gets pinched. As you may imagine, this is extremely painful and can result in sudden and sharp pain, soreness, numbness and/or tingling. Some people may even have trouble walking or standing due to the pain. It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of people will have sciatica at some point. Some unlucky patients will even experience flare-ups of sciatica over their lifetime. Recurrent sciatica can also be a source of anxiety, as you never know when sciatica will strike. The good news is that sciatica usually goes away on its own within a few hours. However, for those who deal with recurrent sciatica or need help managing the pain of a new case, massage therapy offers myriad benefits.

See a Doctor for Diagnosis of Underlying Cause of Sciatica

People experiencing sciatica should always talk to their primary care physicians about their symptoms before exploring integrative health options. The National Institutes of Health notes the most common underlying cause in 90 percent of cases is a herniated disc. Other, more serious, conditions like stenosis and lumbar tumors are also possible.

Remember, sciatica pain may include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • Weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving your leg or foot
  • Consistent pain on one side of the buttocks

If a client is experiencing any of these symptoms, refer them to their physician for diagnosis before developing a treatment plan focused on helping them manage their pain.

Manage Sciatica Pain with Massage

The benefits of massage therapy for sciatica make it an ideal therapy for those suffering from sciatica pain on a regular basis. Let’s take a look at why.

  1. Relieve lower back pain. First, massage therapy is an effective way to get pain relief from lower back pain, a top symptom of sciatica. According to a 2014 study published in the Scientific World Journal, deep tissue massage is just as effective as anti-inflammatory drugs for lower back pain. For sciatica patients who prefer an all-natural choice, massage therapy is an excellent and effective option.
  2. Soothe tense muscles and release pressure on nerves. Tight, tense muscles can put undue pressure on your nerves—including your sciatic nerve. Massage therapy, unlike other pain management therapies, starts with these muscles and reduces pressure on your sciatic nerve. This kind of muscle relaxation can sometimes address the underlying cause of sciatica, while also making you feel great.
  3. Improve blood circulation for recovery. Massage therapy also increases blood circulation and flow to the pain area. Because of the touch of massage, tissue temperature increases and allows the area to receive nutrient-rich blood to the injured area, according to a 2010 study published in Strength and Conditioning Journal. Getting that improved blood circulation can help your body recover. (Note: This benefit depends on your diagnosis. If your sciatica is a result of a herniated disc, promoting blood flow won’t address the underlying cause.)
  4. Boost flexibility and range of motion. Massage therapy can also help with another symptom of sciatica: the pain of moving and walking. Massage in general can boost your flexibility and range of motion, which means you may be able to move around more easily and recover more quickly.
  5. Reduce stress and anxiety. Finally, massage therapy can help sciatica pain in emotional ways as well. A sense of calmness can help sciatica patients feel less anxious while also helping with recovery. In this way, massage therapy can also be good for your emotional health.

Types of Massage for Sciatica Pain

There are several different types of massage that can help relieve sciatica pain. Let’s consider the following in more depth:

  1. Deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massage is a technique that uses slow, deep strokes and pressure in order to target muscles and tissues and can be really great for pain conditions like sciatica. In particular, deep tissue massage relaxes tense muscles around the sciatic nerve, which helps reduce pain in the area.
  2. Swedish massage. Swedish massage is similar to deep tissue massage in that it uses therapeutic touch to relax muscles and tissues. However, Swedish massage is a gentler technique that relies less on massage pressure and more on targeted areas. In general, the idea of a Swedish massage is to release tension, which is ideal for sciatica patients because it relaxes muscles and allows for pain relief.
  3. Trigger point therapy. Trigger point therapy is another massage technique that can benefit sciatica patients. Trigger point therapy involves targeting the source of pain with pressure and release touch. The therapist works to discover the exact location of pain and works to release this area to relieve pain and resolve the underlying musculoskeletal issue. This can be an effective technique for those with sciatica because it targets the area with the pinched nerve in order to resolve the pressure and tension in the area.
  4. Neuromuscular massage. Neuromuscular massage is another general massage technique that manipulates soft tissues in order to resolve the underlying musculoskeletal issue. This technique address trigger points, as well as nerve compression, postural issues and poor circulation. This all-in-one technique works to relax tight muscles and recover tissues through pressure and enhanced blood flow.
  5. Myofascial release. Myofascial release is a massage technique that focuses on myofascial tissues, those tough tissues that support your muscles. A myofascial release massage pinpoints trigger points in these tissues and then tries to release this tension so that pain is relieved and the underlying cause can better heal. For sciatic pain, myofascial release may be a good solution depending on the trigger point on your sciatic nerve.
  6. Hot stone massage. Hot stone massage is exactly what it sounds like. The heat warms muscles during the massage. Those with sciatic pain may benefit from a hot stone massage as well.

Tips for Finding a Massage Therapist That Fits Your Needs

As a massage therapist, you know all about the benefits of massage therapy and the types of massage that may relieve your pain. Now it’s time to find the right massage therapist for you. The following points can also aid in your quest to find new clients.

  • Ask your friends and family. Sometimes the easiest way to find a good massage therapist is to ask your friends and family. Somebody you trust may have a good recommendation.
  • Use American Massage Therapy Association’s Find a Massage Therapist locator service. If you’re having trouble finding licensed massage therapists, visit AMTA's locator service, where you’ll be able to search for massage therapists in your area.
  • Specify your preferences. Communicate your needs on the phone when you call to schedule an appointment. Nobody can read your mind! Be sure to mention your preferences for who and how you will be massaged.
  • Inquire about massage therapies. When you contact a massage therapist, ask about the types of massages they do. For a sciatica patient, the massage techniques listed previously may all be effective.
  • Ask about previous sciatica clients. You can even ask whether the clinic has ever worked with patients and what kind of therapy they received. This previous experience can be great for your confidence and comfort level. Sometimes finding the right massage therapist can be a matter of trial and error. Be sure to communicate your needs and ask for more information if you need it.

Read More About Massage Therapy For Pain:

Ben Benjamin talks about finger joint pain, arthritis and how massage can help

The Massage Therapy Foundation discusses massage for pain in hospital settings