Massage Therapy and Sciatica

Contemporary multimodal massage therapists are uniquely suited to incorporate a number of rehabilitation strategies for sciatica based on patient-specific assessment findings including, but not limited to:
• Manual Therapy (neurodynamic mobilization, soft-tissue massage, joint mobilizations)
• Education on psychosocial factors (eg. BPS framework of pain, fear avoidance)
• Remedial Loading Programs (eg. static stretching, concentric, eccentric, isometric)

Structures to be Aware of When Treating Sciatic Pain


Sensitivities of Axons Exposed to a Pathological Environment - Neurovascular bundles may be exposed to mechanical irritation at many different points. Prolonged irritation may result in a reduction of intraneural blood flow. In turn, local hypoxia of a peripheral nerve leads to a drop in tissue pH that triggers the release of inflammatory mediators, known as “inflammatory soup”. This noxious substance can disrupt the normal function of nerves (Fisher et al. 2015).  The application of specific soft tissue treatment may help to diminish intraneural edema and/or pressure by mobilizing neural tubes (Gilbert et al. 2015).

A treatment plan should be implemented based on patient-specific assessment findings and patient tolerance. symptoms may be causes by disc herniation, spondylolisthesis or soft tissue irritation. Structures to keep in mind while assessing and treating patients suffering from sciatica may include neurovascular structures and investing fascia of:
• The piriformis
• Gluteal muscles
• Quadratus femoris
• Hamstrings
• Gemelli-obturator internus complex

More to Explore

Bartret et al. (2018). Is it painful to be different? Sciatic nerve anatomical variants on MRI and their relationship to piriformis syndrome. Eur Radiol.

Baselgia et al. (2017). Negative Neurodynamic Tests Do Not Exclude Neural Dysfunction in Patients With Entrapment Neuropathies. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.

Basson et al. (2017). The Effectiveness of Neural Mobilization for Neuro-Musculoskeletal Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.

Bernstein et al. (2017). Low back pain and sciatica: summary of NICE guidance. BMJ.

Carro et al. (2016). Deep gluteal space problems: piriformis syndrome, ischiofemoral impingement and sciatic nerve release. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. (OPEN ACCESS)

Cass, S.P. (2015). Piriformis syndrome: a cause of nondiscogenic sciatica. Curr Sports Med Rep.

Ellis et al. (2017). The effect of spinal position on sciatic nerve excursion during seated neural mobilisation exercises: an in vivo study using ultrasound imaging. J Man Manip Ther.

Gilbert et al. (2015). Effects of simulated neural mobilization on fluid movement in cadaveric peripheral nerve sections: Implications for the treatment of neuropathic pain and dysfunction. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy. (OPEN ACCESS) 

Govea et al. (2017). Group IV nociceptors develop axonal chemical sensitivity during neuritis and following treatment of the sciatic nerve with vinblastine. J Neurophysiol.

Hopayian, K., & Danielyan, A. (2017). Four symptoms define the piriformis syndrome: an updated systematic review of its clinical features. Eur J Orthop Surg Traumatol.

Jeong et al. (2016). The effects of self-mobilization techniques for the sciatic nerves on physical functions and health of low back pain patients with lower limb radiating pain. J Phys Ther Sci.

Lewis et al. (2015). Comparative clinical effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and network meta-analyses. Spine J.

Miller et al. (2012). The diagnosis and management of Piriformis Syndrome: myths and facts. Can J Neurol Sci.

Neto et al. (2017). Effects of lower body quadrant neural mobilization in healthy and low back pain populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Musculoskelet Sci Pract.

Rade et al. (2017). Reduced Spinal Cord Movement With the Straight Leg Raise Test in Patients With Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation. Spine (Phila Pa 1976).

Ropper, A.H., & Zafonte, R.D. (2015). Sciatica. N Engl J Med. 

Schmid et al. (2013). Reappraising entrapment neuropathies--mechanisms, diagnosis and management. Man Ther. 

Stochkendahl et al. (2017). National Clinical Guidelines for non-surgical treatment of patients with recent onset low back pain or lumbar radiculopathy. Eur Spine J.

Urban, L.M., & MacNeil, B.J. (2015). Diagnostic Accuracy of the Slump Test for Identifying Neuropathic Pain in the Lower Limb. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.