massage and self care for sciatic pain

Can Massage Therapy Help with Sciatic Pain?

Having back pain and not sure what to do? The answers you find online can create more confusion. 

Here you will find effective home therapy for sciatic pain.

These are realistic and easy to put in place, treatment options you can do right at home.

As a Licensed Massage Therapist, I specialize in treating chronic and acute injuries. I’ve helped alleviate my own sciatic pains as well as several family members.

I witness consistent positive results using these methods.

gina massaging on a table working on sciatic pain

No, it is not a quick fix. 

What it is, is extremely effective and pretty easy to do. 

There is hope for you in relieving your pain

Be consistent in your attention to the issue. On some level, you instinctively know what your body needs more or less of.

The sciatic nerve has many different ways of causing us pain.

Pain can occur in the low back, hip area, or in the buttocks and down the legs. This can be debilitating. 

It is our bodies way of letting us know that something is going on that needs our attention. There may be sharp pains that are constant or during a specific movement. Also, it can be accompanied by burning or tingling sensations.

The
Good News!

There are several options to relieve all of these
pains. 

Massage Therapy is known to help relieve symptoms. 

In my experience, it has worked wonders. Not only on myself, but with many clients. Yoga, stretching, exercise, and proper body mechanics can be extremely healing.

Anatomy of the Sciatic Nerve

Sciatica is used a general term used to explain a set of symptoms around the sciatic nerve. Technically, it refers to pain caused by compression or irritation of one or more nerves exiting the lower spine that make up the sciatic nerve, and there are a number of different conditions that can cause this. 

Incidentally, it has become a catch all term that people use to
refer to any nerve type pain in the glutes and sometimes down the legs.

Sometimes what it is that people are feeling is actually called Piriformis
Syndrome. 

This can give you the same symptoms but it is a specific muscle, the
piriformis muscle that is spasming and irritating the nerves. A small and deep gluteal muscle located under the layers of glute muscles. The sciatic nerve passes along side this muscle or in some people, goes through it.

The sciatic nerve is the largest and thickest nerve of the body. You can find a short video on the anatomy, here.

 

 

sciatic nerve pictured in the back and going down the legs as it branches. Sometimes back pain can radiate from low back down into the legs

The sciatic nerve begins from the spinal cord in the lumbar (lower) back.  It runs down the buttock muscles and down the legs.  As it moves down the legs it branches into multiple sections. It provides the nervous connection to the whole lower body.

Common Causes of Sciatic Pain

If this is an ongoing issue, see a health professional, be sure that you have a correct diagnosis. 

Thankfully, most people have muscle spasms and other soft tissue issues that can be easily worked out. 

If this has been an on-going problem that is not alleviated with treatment, please see a medical professional.

Severe and chronic sciatic pain needs to addressed by your medical professional. Here are some common causes of chronic sciatic pain. This is not a full list.

Lumbar spinal stenosis 

Degenerative Disc Disease 

Spondylolisthesis 

 

 

Try these techniques for Sciatic pain relief

A common treatment for acute flare up is the R.I.C.E. Method. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Though this is an outdated practice and most are moving toward the new M.E.T.H. method. This is something most current therapists and professionals will tell you to do. 

I do value the compression, it does provide support and awareness to the area. If you struggle with frequent sciatic pain get yourself a good back brace. 

Body Mechanics for Back Pain

Body Awareness

Bring more awareness to how your body is standing and moving.  A repetitive imbalanced in posture and movement can be the original cause of what is what irritates the tissues. Try to notice how you do movements like bending down to get something.

 

mountain pose for back pain

In yoga, we use mountain pose to practice balanced and neutral posture. I regularly will have people stand and then I will gently adjust their body to center. 

Stand to do this exercise

Stand evenly, with your feet parallel and hip distance apart.

Begin by noticing your feet. 

Put equal weight on both feet. Front and back, side to side. Next be sure your knee caps are facing forward. Now notice your hips, tilt them forward and back and find the neutral center. Shift them up and down and side to side and find the center with your hips. Notice how this directly affects your back. Take a few deep breaths in this standing posture and notice how it feels. Now take a slow motion walk while trying to maintain this posture. 

Practice this several times a week and you will bring more awareness to your body. 

Healthy Sitting Posture

starting yoga is to do your best, be kind in your mind

You are a master tension finder, you just have to turn that intention on in yourself.

People hold chronic tensions called guarding. For example, sometimes people unknowingly clench their deep glute(buttocks) muscles when they are concentrating or stressed. You can analyze this yourself, while you are doing certain tasks like standing in line or washing dishes.

Take notice of how the glute area feels, then gently squeeze and contract your glute, now let it fully relax. When you do this a few times you will be able to tell if you are holding tension. This is a really great way to allow the muscle to release. Squeeze only about 50% of a full contraction when you are having a lot of pain. You want to avoid contracting too hard and too fast and locking up the muscle. Be extremely gentle.

Body Movement 

After that initial rest, you can start to some activity. The important thing is to get circulation and awareness to all the areas that are lacking it. Effective home therapy for sciatic pain: walking, yoga, stretching, exercise, movement awareness, and massage. 

Evaluate the amount of activity your injury can handle. Begin with light activity at first, noticing how your body reacts. 

Be gentle in your activity and deeply aware of your movements.

A few words about pain

There is a delicate balance between pushing yourself and hurting yourself. Just because you begin activity doesn’t mean the
pain will instantly be gone. Pain is a very broad term. There are many
different types of pain. 

Listen and get to know your pain. There are subtle differences in pain signals. Pain can tell us that we worked but that our body is healing and it is ok. 

It can also tell us to stop immediately because our body is in danger of further injury.

 Learn to know the subtle difference by paying attention to the specific sensations of pain.

 

Self Massage

Massage therapy techniques work. For sciatic pain, massage therapy is a valuable solution. There are lots of self-massage tools.

Massage works in many ways, it creates effects physiologically,
psychologically, and mechanically.

What is Massage Therapy?

Manipulating the soft tissues of the body by compressing, squeezing, or stretching.

How does Massage Help?

Massage helps create more circulation, makes changes in stress and pain, and increases body awareness. 

You can massage yourself with your own hands, elbows, knees, and feet. Since sciatic pain is located in a place that is hard to get to, you can also use a massage tool. A tennis ball can do wonders for back pain when used properly.

How to massage yourself with a therapy ball.

It works best to put the ball into a long sock or stocking and tie a knot next to the ball. Now you have a handle, and that makes it really easy to move around. 

When you first begin using it, especially if the area is extremely tender. You can lay on a bed or a couch because you will have more cushion against too much pressure. You can also lay on the floor or an exercise mat.

 

First, Place the ball next to the sacrum. The sacrum is the triangle shaped bone just above your tail bone. At first, do not press or lean your body weight into the ball. 

The goal is to slowly sink into the gluteal tissue. You want to stay under a 4 on a 0-10 scale, 10 being excruciating pain, 0 being no pain. Put your weight slowly, no slower, even slower, ok, that slow. 

You do not need to move around a lot. It is better if you do not. The muscles you are trying to work on are deep and small. In particular, think of moving as these tiny little micro-movements. 

Gently move the ball side to side and top to bottom. Do the tennis ball massage for about 5 minutes, then stretch.

When using the tennis ball, be aware of any increase of nerve pain and numbness. If this happens, back off the pressure or stop. 

Additionally, you can use this same technique with a foam roller if you are comfortable moving around on the floor with one.  

Some massage tools work by using vibration. Vibrational massage can be performed by a professional therapist or by an electronic device. It can stimulate blood circulation and reduce pain in the area. This can be useful for sciatic pain.

How to Stretch Properly

Stretch gently and stretch frequently

Proper stretching should not be painful, it should be relieving. 

Only stretch to the point you begin to feel pain, then back off a bit. This is the beginning point of your stretch. 

Hold there for at least 30 seconds while taking long and deep breaths. Meanwhile, focus you mind on relaxing the muscles in that area.  

If you feel a release you can now take the stretch a bit further as long as it is not causing pain. 

If you do find pain, back of again and breath through it. When you stretch a relaxed muscle, you are much more likely to get sciatic pain relief.

Sciatic Pain Stretch

While laying on your back, bring one knee toward your chest while the other leg is straight or the foot is flat on the floor or bed. You can then, take that same knee slightly across your body in a gently twist.

Next, you can straighten both legs and bring one leg toward the sky to stretch the hamstring muscles (on the back side of your leg). You can keep your knee bent slightly. This movement can sometime create a shaking or tremor in the leg, be sure you are not overstretching, but allow the tremor to be.

Modification: If it is uncomfortable or you are
unable to reach your knee, use a yoga strap, a belt, or a tie around your leg.

Exercise for Sciatic Pain

Most exercises that help sciatic pain are focused on strengthening the back and the abdominals. Core workouts are very helpful for sciatic pain. 

It is also important to maintain the strength in your legs. You can begin by simply walking and body weight exercises at home. Weight training is especially helpful in building strength.

Yoga has been show to help resolve pain. There are many types and styles of yoga. Be sure you start slowly and are aware of your limitations.

Related Article:

Types of Professional Help for Back Pain

Several resources can provide you with relief from sciatic pain.

 

Physical Therapists offers a wide array of professional treatment with highly trained therapists. This is a great resource of evaluation and specific healing activities.

 

Personal Trainers can offer help with choosing specific
exercises, gaining motivation, and using proper techniques.  

 

Massage Therapists can offer stress relief, pain
relief, and increased circulation. I’ve found it best to work with the same
therapists and receive massage 2-3 times a week for a 2-3 weeks. After that, take a break to evaluate how long you have relief. Then, make a maintenance schedule, probably once a month will do. 

You can ask your therapist to do 30-minute massage instead of a full hour to help lower the cost. You could also buy a package of massages.

 

Chiropractic Physicians offer a great deal of relief for many types of sciatic pain. Some doctors even have x-ray and will take and evaluate where this pain may be stemming from.

 

Private Yoga Teachers can offer great insight to accessing yoga poses and breathing methods that will help create balance and healing with
your sciatica.

 

There are several other health modalities that can be help with body pain, such as, Ayurvedic Health Coaches, Clinical Herbalists, and Acupuncture Physicians.

 

If you are choosing professional help, shop around. Do some research by asking for people for referrals.

Research the professional’s education and specializations. 

Then, choose someone that you feel good working with.

Mind Body Connection

Our human bodies are amazing, and important to realize that it works in phenomenal ways. We have only scratched the surface in understanding it. In general, it is known that our thoughts and emotions have an impact on our body. 

Think of the typical Charlie Brown posture of depression. When having back pain, it can be related to many emotions in your life. 

Lower back pain may reflect your fear of money or lack of financial support. You can create an affirmation for yourself to help redirect any negative beliefs and thoughts around this. 

An example of this is: I am secure and supported by life.

You can use this affirmation as a meditation and repeat it to yourself while sitting quietly. There are also ancient mantras you can use to transform energy. Don’t know what mantra means? 

You can find out in this article, called, What Mantra Means. Do your mantra or affirmations for a few moments before bed or upon awakening. Choose to be mindful of your thoughts around your pain and you will gain important knowledge about the situation.

Becoming aware of the energetic nuances, emotions, and the subtle sensations related to the area can be extremely beneficial. Have you heard of grounding? Find out more in this article, Grounding and Opening the Root Chakra. Some find that this is the missing link to their healing.

Another crafty method of self-care and massage shared from traditional Thai medicine is the herbal compress. Learn how to use and make your own Thai herbal compress, here.

"Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food."

A Word on Nutrition

Our bodies are constantly working towards homeostasis. When you give your body the nutritional support it needs, it will help it to heal much faster. 

Do not underestimate this natural power your body contains. Remember that our nutrition comes from all the different types of food that grows on the earth. 

This includes herbal medicines you can easily add to your food or enjoy in the form of tea and tinctures.

A Word on Music

The healing energy of music has long been known to make people feel better, no matter what the issue is. Moving your body with music can be extremely healing. Looking for music for meditation or movement? You can find some of my favorites in the article, Healing Music.

 

 

In conclusion, there is hope for healing your pain. You are unique are there is a set of things that will work best for you. I hope you find great use in this effective home therapy for sciatic pain.

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