Lower back pain affects nearly 70 percent of the population and is a common cause of disability in industrialized nations, reports the World Health Organization. One of the reasons for this debilitating condition is a compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It starts in the lower back, branches out, and travels deep into the buttocks and down each leg.
Sciatica is a term used to describe the symptoms of pain, weakness, tingling, burning, or numbness along the path of the sciatic nerve. The pain may be felt in the lower back, hip, and leg, sometimes extending down to the foot. Only one side of the body is usually affected.
There are a number of causes for this painful condition, including degenerative disc disease, a slipped or herniated disc, tightness in the piriformis muscle located deep in the buttocks, a narrowing of the spinal canal from spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis. Factors that exacerbate sciatica include age, weight, diabetes, sitting for extended periods of time, and occupation.
Sciatic pain may come and go, and often resolves in time with adequate rest. While medical intervention may be recommended in some cases, “most people with sciatica (80 percent to 90 percent) will get better without surgery,” the Cleveland Clinic website states.
Many people can find sciatica relief with appropriate massage therapy and exercise.
Massage techniques for sciatica are specialized to target a number of muscles that could be contributing to the symptoms. One of the best approaches is a combination of deep-tissue massage, neuromuscular therapy, and trigger point therapy.
Together, these techniques help to stimulate circulation, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, restore normal range of motion, and promote healing.
The piriformis muscle, located in the buttocks area, plays a significant role in sciatic pain. In fact, this condition is often a result of Piriformis Syndrome, in which the muscle puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
The piriformis functions to help maintain balance, and stabilize and laterally rotate the hip joint (turn the thigh away from the body). Thus, it is critical to numerous sports and day-to-day activities.
Another important muscle group for proper hip function is the adductors, which are located on the inside of the thighs. Tight adductor muscles can contribute to Piriformis Syndrome.
With gentle stretching that is never forced, you can ease the pain and return normal function to the hips. Here are some exercises that may help.
Lie on your back with legs flat on the floor. Bend the knee of the affected side. Lift the foot off the floor, grab the knee and ankle and gently pull the affected leg across your chest.
Bend the knee of the unaffected side and place the foot on floor around 6 to 10 inches or as close as possible to the buttock. Now cross the ankle of the affected side over the unaffected thigh. Reach down with both hands, grab behind the unaffected thigh lift, pull toward your chest, and hold.
If you have difficulty reaching behind your thigh, loop a towel or band behind it, grab both ends, pull and hold.
An alternative to the lying down stretch is to stand facing a flat surface near hip height. Place the calf of the leg you want stretched on top of the surface and turn the knee outward. Slowly lean forward toward your elevated leg and hold.
Sit on the floor with legs flat and extended outward in a V. Lean forward gently until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs.
Now bend your legs at the knee and bring the soles of your feet as closely together as you can and use your elbows to apply downward pressure on both thighs.
Hold all stretches for 20–30 seconds and repeat 3–5 times. Be sure to consult with your health care provider before starting a new exercise routine.
Leslie Mary Olsen is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach, fitness coaching specialist, and licensed massage therapist. She holds a master’s degree in health policy and has over 30 years of experience in the health and wellness field.