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Massage and Sciatica

SO, what is sciatica? I hear clients often enough self-diagnosing as having sciatica, “or at least I think it is…” is the follow up response. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve stemming from your lower back is being compressed causing sharp pain, numbness or tingling over your buttocks, behind the thigh and as far as down to your calves or feet. Usually it’s one sided but can occur to both sides.

Now that we’ve defined what sciatica is, the real question you need to ask yourself is, what is the cause of the nerve being compressed? Upon reflection, have we actually defined sciatica as a symptom or a condition? I’m more inclined to say the former.

If you can figure out the cause of the sciatica, that will answer whether massage can help reduce or eliminate the pain travelling down your back, hips and/or legs. If the sciatic nerve is compressed by tight muscles somewhere along the nerve pathway, massage can certainly help release the nerve from irritation. If the issue is more sticky, like a herniated disc, then massage can only do so much and if anything, only provide temporary relief. I would also like to add, don’t expect miracles from one massage treatment but do expect some sort of change. Otherwise the only change you’ll be seeing is the one of your bank balance.

Can a massage help diagnose the cause of the sciatica?

First off, massage therapists aren’t qualified to diagnose anything. We’re taught techniques on how to assess range of motion, which muscles have weak activation for particular movements when they should be stronger and yes, nerve impingement. These assessment techniques give clues as to what and where abouts an issue is stemming from but massage therapists can’t fill out a request and send you off to get proper scans done. We can give you our opinion if you ask for it but what’s the point of that if it turns out we’re wrong and we stressed you out for nothing and we’re not professionally educated to supply you with treatment options. This is where it’s handy for massage therapists to know when you need to be referred to another practitioner. Otherwise….refer to “bank balance” comment.

Secondly, if you feel a reduction in pain after a visit with the massage therapist, I’d suggest go back again for further treatments. If the pain doesn’t completely go away or comes back after a very short period of time then you haven’t addressed the cause of sciatica. In which case, get a treatment off a practitioner who is qualified to give you a more official diagnosis.

Thirdly, which is really an extension of the second point, if you went down the path of getting a qualified diagnosis and it turns out the cause has a muscular component to it, you can come back for a massage to get those areas treated. Best to get which specific muscles to have massaged scribbled down for you to hand to the massage therapist though.


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