What is sciatica
Sciatica refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. When something injures or puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain in the lower back that spreads to the hip, buttocks, and leg. Up to 90% of people recover from sciatica without surgery.

Most people who get sciatica are between the ages of 30 and 50. Women may be more likely to develop the problem during pregnancy because of pressure on the sciatic nerve from the developing uterus.

Symptoms of Sciatica
The most common symptom of sciatica is lower back pain that extends through the hip and buttock and down one leg. The pain usually affects only one leg and may get worse when you sit, cough, or sneeze. The leg may also feel numb, weak, or tingly at times. The symptoms of sciatica tend to appear suddenly and can last for days or weeks.

What causes Sciatica pain

1. Herniated Disk
The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disk. Disks act like cushions between the vertebrae of your spine. These disks get weaker as you age and become more vulnerable to injury. Sometimes the gel-like center of a disk pushes through its outer lining and presses on the roots of the sciatic nerve. About 1 in 50 people will get a herniated disk at some point in life. Up to a quarter of them will have symptoms that last more than 6 weeks.

2. Spinal Stenosis

Natural wear and tear of the vertebrae can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing, called spinal stenosis, may put pressure on the roots of the sciatic nerve. Spinal stenosis is more common in adults over age 60.

3. Spinal tumors
In rare cases, sciatica may result from tumors growing inside or along the spinal cord or sciatic nerve. As a tumor grows, it may put pressure on the nerves that branch off from the spinal cord.

4. Piriformis Syndrome
The piriformis is a muscle found deep inside the buttocks. It connects the lower spine to the upper thighbone and runs directly over the sciatic nerve. If this muscle goes into spasm, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, triggering symptoms of sciatica. Piriformis syndrome is more common in women.

5. Carrying a fat Wallet

Man removing his wallet

You might not think of too much cash as a source of pain, but a fat wallet can trigger piriformis syndrome. The condition can affect men who wear their wallet in the back pocket of their pants. This puts chronic pressure on the piriformis muscle and can aggravate the sciatic nerve over time. You can avoid this problem by keeping your wallet in a front pocket or jacket pocket.

6. Sacroiliitis
Sacroiliitis is an inflammation of one or both of the sacroiliac joints, the spot where the lower spine connects to the pelvis. Sacroiliitis can cause pain in the buttocks, lower back, and may even extend down one or both legs. The pain can worsen with prolonged standing or climbing stairs. Sacroiliitis can be caused by arthritis, injury, pregnancy, or infection.

7. Injury or infection

Other causes of sciatica include muscle inflammation, infection, or injury, such as a fracture. In general, any condition that irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve can trigger symptoms. In some cases, no specific cause of sciatica can be found.

What are the best massage types for sciatica?

There are several types of massage therapy. There isn’t much evidence that one type is more beneficial for sciatica pain than another, so choosing one comes down to personal preference. Here’s a look at some of the most common types.

1. Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage is an aggressive form of massage that uses slow strokes and deep finger pressure to release tension from your muscles and connective tissues.

A 2014 clinical study found that a 30-minute session of deep tissue massage five days a week over two weeks was found to effectively treat low back pain, including sciatica.

2. Swedish massage

Swedish massage doesn’t use as much pressure as deep tissue massage. Instead, flowing, kneading movements are used to stimulate nerve endings in your connective tissue and increase blood flow. It also helps to release general tension and promote relaxation.

3. Neuromuscular massage

Neuromuscular massage uses advanced massage techniques that combine deep tissue pressure and friction to release contracted muscles and relieve tension.

4. Myofascial release

Myofascial release is a technique used to relieve pain that stems from your myofascial tissues — the tough membrane that surrounds and supports your muscles.

Trigger points, which are stiff, immovable areas within the myofascial tissues, cause pain and stiffness. Focused pressure and stretching on the trigger points help to reduce pain and stiffness.

5. Hot stone massage

Hot stone massage is used to promote relaxation and ease tense muscles. Heated stones are placed on specific parts of your body and may be held by the massage therapist while they use Swedish massage techniques

How do I find the right massage therapist

If you’d like to give massage for sciatica a try, it’s important to choose a qualified massage therapist who has experience in treating sciatica symptoms.

To find a massage therapist, you can:

  • ask your doctor for a referral
  • ask friends and family for a recommendation
  • search the American Massage Therapy Association’s database
  • use the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork’s database

Here are some things to consider when choosing a massage therapist:

  • Your personal preference. Does the gender of the massage therapist matter to you? Some people are more comfortable with therapists of the same gender.
  • Location. Choose a massage therapist whose practice is close by or easy to get to.
  • Hours. You want to make sure that they offer appointments during hours that work with your schedule.
  • Cost. Ask how much they charge per session and about any cost-saving incentives, such as a sliding-scale option.
  • Credentials. Make sure the professional you choose is licensed to practice massage therapy in your state. Most states regulate the massage therapy profession. Be sure to ask about their credentials.
  • Type of massage. Some massage therapists are trained in several types of massage while others focus one or two types. Ask what types of massage they’re most familiar with.
  • Experience treating sciatica. Talk to your massage therapist about your sciatica and ask if they have experience in treating sciatic pain.

Before you first session, make sure to tell them about any other health conditions you have. You may also want to check in with your health insurance provider. Some cover massage therapy, especially for an underlying condition.

Important note

Massage for sciatica won’t cure the underlying cause of your pain, but it can help to temporarily relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms before starting massage therapy to make sure it’s safe for you.