When your sciatic nerve gets pinched, stressed, or compressed, it can cause sciatica — a painful condition that can put the brakes on your usual routine.
Sciatica is incredibly common, affecting up to 40% of people at some point in their lives. But when this unpleasant nerve pain shows up, can massage therapy help you find relief?
When it comes to massage for sciatica pain, here’s what you should know about the benefits, risks, and how to get started.
Causes of Sciatica Pain
If you’ve been dealing with sciatica for a while, then you might already know that it stems from your sciatic nerve — a large nerve that begins in your lower back. As this nerve stretches down your body, it splits near your buttocks and runs separately through each of your legs.
When the sciatic nerve becomes pinched or damaged, pain and numbness can radiate anywhere from your low back to your foot. And while it usually only affects one side of your body, it can sometimes impact both.
Before trying massage, it’s key to think about the root cause of your sciatica pain. Common conditions that can irritate this nerve include:
- A herniated disc
- Bone spurs
- Piriformis syndrome
How Does Massage Help Sciatica?
In many cases, massage can bring a variety of therapeutic benefits to people living with sciatica. A good massage can soothe your achy muscles, support healing, promote blood flow, and get you on your way to feeling healthy and vibrant again.
It’s important to note that because sciatica pain is nerve-related, massage won’t be able to fix the source of your pain. However, it may still help you make your day-to-day life a little more comfortable.
If you have sciatica, here are some of the specific benefits of massage worth knowing about.
Massage Can Soothe Pain
Why do we have the urge to touch or knead our bodies when they hurt? As humans, we intuitively know that massage can help us ease aches and pains. But beyond intuition, emerging research also shows support for massage’s ability to soothe pain.
One large review found that massage may be an effective short-term option for nonspecific low back pain compared to placebo or relaxation alone. And in another 2008 case study, massage eased pain and supported healing in a patient with low back pain and sciatica symptoms.
On top of that, the enjoyable experience of massage could also release endorphins, which act as your body’s natural, built-in painkillers.
Massage Relieves Tight Muscles (and May Even Help with Spasms)
Massage can break up the tension in tight muscles that may be putting additional pressure on your spine and sciatic nerve. And according to the Cleveland Clinic, it may even help calm down muscle spasms that can sometimes occur with sciatica.
Are There Any Risks to Trying Massage for Sciatica Pain?
There are some occasions when it’s best to refrain from massage until you get a chance to check with your doctor. These include times when you:
- Have certain health conditions that massage could impact. These include (but are not limited to) uncontrolled high blood pressure, infections, or kidney or liver issues.
- Are dealing with an acute stage of an injury.
- Are pregnant. (In many cases, you can still enjoy a massage while pregnant, but you’ll need to visit a certified prenatal massage therapist and check with your physician.)
At any rate, it’s best to stay on the safe side. If you have any health condition that you aren’t sure about, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before trying massage.
How to Try Massage for Sciatica At Home
If you want to try massage at home, you’re in luck. There are a myriad of easy, at-home massage techniques that can get you on the path to relieving tension and feeling better.
(Note: Be sure to avoid massaging directly over your spine or on any other bony parts of your body.)
Here are two simple ways to get started:
Hands-On Low Back Massage
To massage away the tension in your low-back muscles, you can ask a partner to help you out or use your own hands. Here’s how:
- If you’re doing it yourself, simply bend your arms and reach behind your back. Massage your lower back tissue with your fingers for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can run your knuckles up and down the muscles near your spine.
- If you’re having a partner help you, it’s best to first lie down in a comfortable position. Then, they can use a combination of their knuckles, thumbs, and fingers to gently knead out the tension in the soft tissue of your low back.
Try a Body Massager
If you want an effortless massage at home, a high-quality body massager can do the trick. For instance, the MedMassager MMB05 can bring you relief when you apply its oscillating technology to your problem areas.
Here’s how to use a body massager to relieve lower back tension:
- Have a seat in a chair or on a couch with a high back.
- Turn the massage tool on to its lightest-pressure setting.
- Align it with your low back muscles, and lean back into it. Allow it to gently massage your muscles for a few minutes.
- After those first couple of minutes, you can adjust the device to your preferred pressure and move it around as needed.
- Enjoy for up to ten minutes per session. If necessary, feel free to repeat a few times throughout the day.
The Takeaway on Massage Therapy and Sciatica
Massage therapy can often help you feel better as you heal from an irritated sciatic nerve, even if it can’t target the root cause of your pain. It can ease your muscle tension, support healing, and release feel-good endorphins in every session — and all of these benefits could make it well worth a try.
Before diving into a new massage routine, be sure to check with your healthcare team. Let them know you’re considering massage, and they can give you expert advice based on your unique body and overall health.