Sciatica can be extremely painful, and might even stop you doing your daily activities if the discomfort gets too much. So it’s important to have some good self-care sciatica pain relief options at your disposal.
Massage is an effective way to ease pressure on the sciatic nerve and reduce pain from sciatica [1-2]. While it may not cure sciatica permanently, it’s often recommended before trying medical treatments like steroid injections for sciatica.
In this article, learn all about sciatica pain relief massage, and see ten of the best massage techniques for relieving sciatic discomfort.
How does massage relieve sciatica?
Massage offers lots of benefits that can improve your sciatica symptoms. These include:
- Relaxing your muscles — Tight or knotty muscles are more likely to compress the sciatic nerve, leading to shooting pains through the leg and hip. Massage loosens and stretches your muscles, reducing the risk of nerve compression.
- Stress reduction — Stress has been linked with sciatic pain . Massage releases endorphins to alleviate stress and discomfort. Working specific pressure points may also reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, although not all researchers agree on this point.
- Improving circulation — Massage encourages blood flow to the sore areas, helping more nutrients and oxygen reach your spine, hips, and legs to promote healing.
Massage can offer natural pain relief for sciatica and help with healing, even if sciatica pain is making it difficult to walk or move. But pressing down on the sciatic nerve can actually irritate it further, so knowing the right massage techniques to use is essential for effective pain relief .
Understanding the sciatic nerve
The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back and runs down the back of your leg. Sciatic pain at the knee can then branch off into other nerves. These can also be affected if your sciatic nerve is pinched or compressed.
Pelvic tissue can compress the sciatic nerve. Massage can shift this tissue, alleviating pressure on the nerve. Knowing where each bone, joint, and muscle is positioned will help you find the right pressure points for effective massage.
In particular, it’s important to note the location of the sacrum, gluteal muscles, piriformis, iliotibial (IT) tract, soleus, and gastrocnemius.
The best massage points for sciatica
When giving a massage to relieve sciatica pain, you’ll want to focus on specific pressure points in the following areas:
- Glutes — Including the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and the piriformis.
- Hamstrings and thighs — Including the IT band, greater trochanter, and hip rotators.
- Calves — Including the soleus and gastrocnemius.
Try to avoid putting pressure on the sciatic nerve itself, or any of the nerves that stem from it. Tingling, numbness, or an increase in pain may indicate pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Seek advice before giving a massage for sciatica in pregnancy, as certain pressure points aren’t recommended for pregnant women.
10 massage techniques for sciatica pain relief
Now you’re familiar with where to find each of these massage points, let’s look at ten of the best massage techniques for sciatica pain relief.
It’s really helpful to have a friend or partner who can perform these massage techniques on you. But if you’re looking for self-massage ideas for sciatic pain relief, you’ll also find these below.
1. Myofascial release
Myofascial release is a massage technique that helps identify areas of stiffness around the sciatic nerve. Stiff muscles and joints may limit movement, so myofascial release will help you find the right areas to focus on. It’s found to effectively treat piriformis syndrome, which often contributes to sciatica .
To perform myofascial release for sciatica pain, stand at the patient’s waist and face their feet. With an open palm at a 45° angle to the skin, place your hand on their lower back and smooth it down to the knee joint with minimal pressure.
Myofascial release also warms up the muscles for more intensive massage techniques.
Self-massage tip: Lift your hips up onto a foam roller and roll backwards across it from your glutes to your knee.
2. Sacrum pressure relief
The sacrum is a small triangle of bone located in the small of your back. Place a soft fist on the sacrum, then gently press the heel of your other hand into the skin below it to stretch and separate the gluteus maximus muscle.
Repeat a few times until you’ve released some of the tension across the gluteus maximus. Try to avoid pressing down into the sciatic nerve; if the patient feels tingling or numbness, ask them to tell you.
Self-massage tip: You may be able to try this one yourself. Stand up and place a fist on your sacrum, then use your other hand to stretch the glutes as described above.
3. Gluteus minimus massage
The gluteus minimus muscle can create discomfort that mimics sciatica . So massaging this muscle is a good way to relieve pain in this area.
Start by gently pressing your fingertips into the side of the hip. Use minimal pressure at first, as tighter muscles will need some work to warm up. When comfortable, you can gradually increase the pressure, using your forearm to massage the gluteus minimus at a deeper level.
Self-massage tip: Follow the instructions above when lying on your stomach. Use the heel of your hand rather than your forearm to apply greater pressure to the gluteus minimus.
4. Greater trochanter elbow glide
The greater trochanter is the top of the thigh bone (femur), and you’ll find it at the widest part of the hip. With this elbow glide technique, you can release tension in the deeper tissues around the hip that may be compressing the sciatic nerve.
Locate the top of the thigh bone, then place your elbow alongside it. Slowly, with comfortable pressure, trace the line of the greater trochanter bone with your elbow. Repeat two to three times.
Self-massage tip: Lie on your side and use a tennis ball to gently massage the area around your greater trochanter.
5. Gluteus maximus petrissage
Petrissage is a massage technique that involves squeezing and kneading the tissue to alleviate tension. It’s a great way to warm up the glute muscles and promote blood flow to the tissue around the sciatic nerve.
For this technique, you may need to apply more oil to reduce friction with the skin. Using the palm and fingers, gently squeeze the gluteus maximus muscle in broad pinches. Then use your knuckles to gently knead this area, applying light pressure and avoiding the sciatic nerve itself.
Self-massage tip: Lying on your back, use a tennis ball or massage gun to apply light pressure to the gluteus maximus muscle.
6. Manual knee manipulation and glute/hamstring massage
Manually moving the joints can help some patients as part of their sciatica pain relief massage. For this technique, bend the patient’s knee so the lower leg is at a 90° angle to the upper leg. Then place your fist against the piriformis muscle at the side of the hip and move the leg from side to side several times.
With comfortable pressure, move your fist along the piriformis up to the sacrum as you manually move the leg.
Self-massage tip: Lying face down, press a tennis ball into the piriformis muscle. Bend your leg so it’s at a 90° angle, with the sole of your foot facing the ceiling. With control, move the leg from side to side several times.
7. Soleus and gastrocnemius thumb massage
Press your thumbs into the centre of the calf just above the Achilles tendon, then move them slowly upwards.
Just before the crease of the knee, move your thumbs apart around the edges of the knee joint. Stop just above the knee crease. Repeat up to four times.
Then, starting at the same point, place your fingertips on the outer edges of the calf and move them up along the soleus muscle, stopping just below the knee. These techniques will allow you to massage the lower leg without pressing on the nerves stemming from the sciatic nerve.
Self-massage tip: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Use the same techniques above to massage your lower legs.
8. Iliotibial band warm-up
The iliotibial tract — commonly known as the IT band — runs from your glutes down the outer leg to your knee. This thin band of tissue can become stiff and scarred, especially after repetitive movement. It sometimes causes lower back pain in runners.
To warm up the IT band (and possibly encourage the break up of scar tissue), use the heel of your hand to massage up and down the outer thigh.
Self-massage tip: Sitting down, use the heel of your hand to massage the outer thigh in up and down strokes.
9. IT band forearm massage
After warming up the IT band, you can use more pressure to release tension in the tissue around the sciatic nerve.
Press the sole of the patient’s foot against the inner side of their opposite knee. Then grip the ankle of the bent leg, and press your forearm against the skin above the knee. Use your body weight to apply more pressure if needed. Smooth your forearm up the outer thigh to the glutes, massaging the IT band.
Self-massage tip: Use a massage gun to apply greater pressure along the IT band.
10. Tennis ball piriformis massage
A tennis ball is essential for anyone looking for self-massage sciatica relief techniques. It can help you release pressure in your glutes without the need for an extra pair of hands.
Sitting on the floor, take your tennis ball and find a comfortable place to position it under your gluteus maximus. Using your arms and legs for stability, roll your glutes across the ball to change pressure location and depth.
To get deeper relief, cross the leg of the affected side across your opposite knee. This will expose the piriformis. Then position the tennis ball back under your gluteus maximus and use the technique above to find a position that releases pressure. This may feel quite intense, so it’s a good idea to do this in short, frequent bursts.
Tips for the best sciatica pain relief massage
- Stop applying pressure if the patient feels tingling, numbness, or pain. This may mean you’re pressing on the sciatic nerve itself.
- Use massage oils to reduce friction between your hands and the patient’s skin.
- Deep Heat may help relieve sciatica, so you can incorporate this cream into your massage if it’s suitable .
- Treat yourself to a professional massage. Talk to your massage therapist about your condition and key areas of pain to get the most from your treatment.
- Try different types of massage to see which gives you the most sciatica relief. Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and hot stone massage can all help relax your muscles and alleviate sciatica.
How often should you massage for sciatica?
Research has shown that a 30-minute massage every day for five days can offer effective sciatica pain relief .
Get effective sciatica relief at Harley Street Specialist Hospital
At Harley Street Specialist Hospital, our trained physiotherapists and massage therapists can provide sciatica pain relief using the best superficial and deep tissue techniques.
We’ll also provide an assessment of your condition, along with other recommendations for how to manage and treat sciatica to give you fast, effective pain relief. Our extensive pool of pain management specialists can help you find the best possible treatment for your sciatica symptoms. Book an appointment with our team to get started.