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How Massage Can Relieve Sciatica Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN April 09, 2020 0 Comments

Massage Ball for Sciatica

Sciatica massage is an effective way to relax muscles and stop the pain caused by the sciatic nerve. You can see a licensed massage therapist or perform self-massage at home. Either way, you will experience the overall calming and relaxation that massage therapy is known for. Learn more about the benefits of massage and how it can treat your sciatica pain without the use of medication.

Benefits of Massage Therapy

Sciatic pain can be caused by multiple issues that massage therapy is used to treat like piriformis syndrome or a herniated disc. The way your massage therapist treats you will be different based on your exact condition but the benefits of massage therapy will be the same. Here are the most common benefits people experience:

  • Promotes Circulation

    Therapeutic massage encourages increased blood flow to the area. This brings more oxygen and nutrients to the injury. It also helps to remove toxins and damaged cells from the site.

  • Increases Endorphins

    One of the body’s feel-good hormone, endorphin, is released with massage therapy. This hormone reduces pain and produces feelings of happiness and relaxation. Another way to release endorphins is through exercise or yoga.

  • Reduces Muscle Tension

    Tight muscles in the back and lower body can cause a slew of symptoms including sciatica pain. Massage therapy will loosen muscles in efforts to reduce pressure and pinching on your sciatic nerve.

  • Relaxation

    One of the greatest overall benefits of massage is how it can melt away stress and relax the whole body. When you’re injured and in pain, your whole body can be tense causing stress and even more pain. Massage will gently work out the physical tightness in your body which will reduce stress hormones and relax your mind.

Professional Massage Techniques

Your lower back is a sensitive area that takes the brunt of a lot of your daily activities. A professional massage therapist is knowledgeable about conditions that can cause sciatica and how to apply different massage techniques to help you feel better. Take a look below to learn more about each technique.

  • Swedish Massage

    This common type of massage uses long massage strokes and circular motions to loosen tight muscles and promote relaxation. It’s gentler than other massage types and can include the whole body. Your massage therapist might use scented oils, these can help you relax during your massage.

  • Deep Tissue Massage

    Your massage therapist will use some of the same movements as in a Swedish massage but with significantly more pressure. This type of massage is meant to release tight muscle and tissue. This will help promote circulation and healing in the area. At first, this type of massage can be uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be painful.

  • Myofascial Release

    Fascia is a tissue that covers the skeletal muscles in the body. When it becomes tight or develops trigger points it can constrict muscle causing pain. These trigger points are stiff areas of the fascia that need the most attention. Myofascial massage uses deep pressure on these areas to release the fascia and trigger points.

  • Neuromuscular Massage

    Neuromuscular massage is a technique that combines pressure and friction movements to release strain and spasms in the muscle. It’s typically done by a massage therapist with their knuckles, fingers, or elbows. The massage pressure will last up to 30 seconds. This technique is a successful treatment for low back pain that can cause sciatica nerve irritation.

  • Chiropractic Massage

    A chiropractor is extensively trained in the spine and body. Their specialized knowledge of the upper and lower back serves sciatica pain sufferers well as the pain usually stems from a herniated disc or another back injury. In addition to providing massage therapy, a chiropractor can perform spinal realignment and other treatments.

Self Massage

Some people may choose to treat their sciatica pain with self-massage. If you have the right tools and know-how it can be an inexpensive and safe way to find pain relief without leaving your home. Here are four self-massage techniques for you to try.

Use self massage along with these home remedies.

Palm and Thumb Massage

This is a basic self-massage technique that uses your palms and thumbs on your lower back to ease tense muscles.

  1. Position your palms on your lower back and massage the area moving towards your spine and down to your bottom.
  2. To perform the thumb portion of the massage, put your hands on your waits and place your thumbs on either side of your spine. 
  3. Using your thumbs, massage using constant pressure toward your spine.

Tennis Ball Massage

Grab two tennis balls and get ready to ease sciatica pain by pressing the balls into your lower back.

  1. Place two tennis balls on the floor right next to each other.
  2. Gently lower yourself onto the floor with your low back over the tennis balls.
  3. Stay in this position for one minute.
  4. Reposition the balls to another sore muscle until you are finished.

Knuckle Pressure

All you need for this self-massage technique for sciatica are your knuckles.

  1. Sit down on the floor with your knees bent.
  2. Make a fist with both hands and position them either side of your low back so that the knuckles are facing your back.
  3. Hold this position for one minute.

Back Extension with Knuckles

Here’s another self-massage that uses your knuckles but incorporates a different movement.

  1. Standing up, make one hand into a fist and put it against your back with your palm facing out and knuckles against your back.
  2. With your other hand holding onto your fist, move your knuckles up and down the muscles on either side of your spine on your lower back.
  3. If it is comfortable, slightly lean back into a back extension for an added stretch.

Massage Tools

If you have decided that self-massage is right for you then you might want to add a few massage tools into your arsenal. Below we’ll cover some tools that can help you get started finding pain relief from sciatica.

  • Pain cream

    Use pain cream before or after a massage to numb your skin and underlying soft tissue to minimize soreness and provide pain relief. Pain creams are portable and inexpensive making them an effective option for people who suffer from sciatica.

  • Massage Ball

    A massage ball is one of the most universal massage tools available. You can place the ball against your lower back or piriformis muscle while you lean against a wall or lay on the ground. Gently hold that position or slowly move your body around the ball to massage deep into your muscles.  

  • Foam Roller

    Similar to a massage ball but covers a larger area is a foam roller. This self-massage tool for sciatica pain is best used while laying on the ground. Put the foam roller under your upper leg, bottom, or lower back and move up and down massaging the muscle. Move slowly and pause if you find a tender spot that needs more attention.

    Learn more about foam rolling here.

  • TENS Unit

    A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit sends an electrical signal through self-adhesive patches to interrupt the pain signal in your body. TENS units are portable and some are even wireless giving you plenty of flexibility to treat the pain caused by an irritated sciatic nerve.

Massage Contraindications

Massage is not always safe for everyone. It’s always best to be cleared by your doctor or physical therapist before you get a massage for sciatica pain. Here is a list of some of the most common conditions that are massage contraindications:

  • Blot clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Swelling
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Contagious conditions
  • Skin infections
  • Open wounds

Staying Safe with Sciatica Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a safe and effective treatment for sciatica pain. Use it alone or in conjunction with other sciatica treatments. Before you start seeing a massage therapist or performing self-massage talk to your doctor. Massage therapy can help you finally find pain relief and relax your whole body.

Find more ways to relieve sciatica pain here.


Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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