It is estimated that up to 40% of people will have sciatic pain at some point in their lives (Massage Today). But what exactly is sciatica, and how is it optimally treated?
What Does Sciatica Feel Like?
According to Harvard Health: “Sciatica describes persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. It is the longest nerve in the body. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured” (Harvard Health).
In 90% of cases the cause of sciatica is a lumbar herniated disk (National Institutes of Health).
Symptoms include: “pain that begins in the lower back and spreads through the buttock, leg, calf and, occasionally, the foot. The pain generally will feel dull, aching or burning. Sometimes, it starts gradually, worsens during the night, and is aggravated by motion. Sciatica also can cause tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg” (Harvard Health).
Radiating pain felt in the hip and legs causes imbalances and tension/pain throughout the rest of the body, and it is common to compensate with posture and movement to keep trying to go about day to day activities.
The symptoms usually go away by themselves, with a period of rest and limited activities from within some hours, up to 6 weeks. However if the symptoms persist or are new to you, it is best to seek the advice of professionals. This ideally involves a trip to the GP for an MRI to obtain a map of the underlying issue, then a visit to a massage therapist to i) provide immediate relief by treating the cause directly and ii) providing you with self-care tips and tools.
The worst case scenario is to take a hefty dose of anti-inflammatories and keep playing sport, or to keep working in a physically demanding job which can cause further injury.
What is the Best Type of Massage for Sciatica?
Myotherapists are best trained to treat serious and diagnosed sciatica. They work directly with nerve impingement, and are highly skilled in assessing neural tension and sciatic symptoms.
- Corrective Movement Therapy
- Pain and Injury Massage
- Joint Mobilisation
- Dry Needling
- Trigger Point Therapy
- Active Cupping
Both Myotherapists and Remedial Massage therapists are highly trained in deep tissue work to relieve sciatic pain. Typically, massage for sciatica will also involve relaxing the muscles surrounding the lower back and sacrum, aiming to reduce the compression on the sciatic nerve. A massage therapist will also treat the glutes, legs and upper back as necessary; and work to improve range of motion in the back and hips.
All physical therapists provide “do at home” corrective exercises for sciatica, which are crucial for recovery.
Self-Care Tools to Relieve Sciatic Pain
- Nutrition! Treat yourself to a diet rich in whole grains, and organic fruit and veg, nuts, fatty fish and soluble and insoluble fibre. Also include anti-inflammatory substances in your diet such as turmeric, ginger, green and black tea. Vitamins B12 and B6 also help improve nerve health and reduce sciatica (spine-health).
- Self-massage with a massage ball, targeting the muscle area (ie. in the lower back and/or glutes) identified by your therapist.
- Hang from a chin up bar to decompress your spine. This stretches the back and releases minor pressure on the affected nerve (Mister Back Pain).
- Gentle stretching exercises and simple yoga poses (recommended if you can move without debilitating pain).
- Heat and Ice therapy. Icing helps reduce the inflammation, while heat packs improve blood flow, providing temporary but immediate pain relief so you can breathe easy.
- Rest or keep moving (ie. walking in swimming pool)
If sciatic pain is beginning to bother you, first visit your GP for an MRI, then visit your massage therapist for targeted relief, and an ongoing treatment plan (including home exercises between appointments). A single appointment will most likely provide immediate relief but there is no magic bullet for chronic aches and pains. Long term improvements will happen only with ongoing therapy and an active treatment plan.
Book an appointment with a therapist today on 03 8598 9804 or online.