The sciatic nerve is a nerve bundle composed of several nerve roots that originate in the lower back and sacral area. This nerve goes down to the lower leg and foot and down the back of the thigh between muscles like the piriformis, which run down from the sacral area to the legs. A tightening of these muscles can cause the sciatic nerve to get compressed and cause pain. The pain can be mild causing slight tingling, but severe sciatic pain can prohibit the patient to move or even lie down. It is always advisable to get sciatica diagnosed by a physician. Other more serious factors that can cause similar pain need to be ruled out. These can be spinal problems like misalignment of the discs or their degeneration because of age. Muscle spasms or tensions can also cause such pain and need to be treated separately. Application of cold compresses quite often alleviates sciatica pain and may be used for initial treatments or mild attacks. However, long lasting relief can be obtained from massage therapy once the problem is identified as originating from the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve originates from the bottom of your sacrum which is the triangular bone just above the buttocks, the region from where the massage therapist will begin the treatment. The massage treatment should preferably start with an assessment of the entire back and buttock area. The piriformis can be tight or having spasms, which in turn compresses the sciatic nerve and causes the pain. The massage treatment would include applying constant pressure to the piriformis and other gluteal muscles to cause them to relax and reduce the spasms. These muscles can become tight by constant pressure on them due to long hours of driving or spending extended periods of time while seated. The massage therapist would then include long strokes, which go deep into the muscle fibers. Pressure and technique would vary from person to person and gentle vibration of the buttock and sacrum is also practiced. This may require several sessions to enable the muscle to release its hold on the sciatic nerve and therefore afford longer relief.
Such massage techniques can also be practiced at home as a follow-up to the treatment or when the pain is less severe. This requires you to use a tennis ball. Place it in the middle of one buttock while lying down. Let your weight settle on the ball and cause pressure on the piriformis. Lie still while the muscle relaxes and repeat the massage treatment on the other buttock. Rolling the ball across the gluteal muscles while lying down may also help. Be sure the pressure does not apply to any bones. If you do feel sore after this treatment, apply some moist heat to the area with a heated wet towel.
The spending on pain relief medications due to sciatica is estimated to cost Americans billions of dollars each year. A study conducted in 2003 indicated that massage therapy reduced the intake of pain killers by as much as a third compared to other known forms of treatment. This itself can read to the reduction in the use of painkillers and has already made massage therapy a common way to ease sciatica pain. Massage therapy for sciatica pain may require multiple sessions, but relief can last for two to three months. It is important that the sufferer take care to see that the conditions that caused the sciatica pain are avoided.
Reprinted with permission from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine