Sciatica: A Real Pain in the Butt

If you’ve experienced sciatica, you know what pain is. There doesn’t seem to be anything that helps, everything makes it worse and you’re ready to throw in the towel.

For those who haven’t experienced it, you don’t want it. Sciatica is an interesting condition where increased pressure or pinching of the sciatic nerve (a major nerve stemming from the lower end of the spinal cord to the foot) causes significant pain that radiates down the leg. Sounds fun, right? Hardly.

I’ve run into people from all ages, shapes and sizes who have experienced this type of pain and they all seem to struggle finding relief. The traditional method of treating sciatica consists of lower back surgery to help release any pressure or to stop any pinching from your vertebrae or discs. But you might feel you’re too young to have back surgery or it just plain scares you. After all, unless it’s 100 percent definitive that you have a compressed spine, there is no guarantee that you will get relief from surgery. So, what do you do? Why not take some time to relax and think about it? A massage sounds like a nice way to accomplish that.

So, you book your massage at Lifestyle Health to get a relaxing massage with some extra attention on the lower back. When you come in, I ask if you have any gluteal (buttocks) soreness and you say, “I thought the sciatic nerve stems from the lower back.” It does, but along the way it passes by this small but very powerful muscle called the piriformis, which is deep in your gluteal muscles. The piriformis is no secret to medical professionals. It is one of the primary hip rotator muscles and has an important role in how you walk, sit, stand and run. If the piriformis is overly tight, it can pinch or put pressure on the sciatic nerve causing some of the same symptoms as sciatica. So, when we release the piriformis, you often get significant pain relief that lasts.

Now, this is the part where I tell you to always seek a doctor or licensed medical professional if you’re having extreme discomfort or nerve pain, as they could be caused by more serious conditions. But for those of you who haven’t found relief, even for diagnosed sciatica, why not see if massage can help?

Sciatica isn’t the only symptom of overly tight gluteal muscles either. Almost all cases that I see of “low back soreness” are accompanied by gluteal tension. Our glutes are big, powerful muscles that have a lot of control when it comes to pelvic and lumbar positioning. Not to mention that pain tends to refer to other areas of the body, meaning, where you feel the pain isn’t always where it’s coming from.

When people have complaints of low back soreness and I palpate the muscles of the low back asking, “Is there any pain here?” Often, I hear a reluctant, “No.” Then as I make my way to some of the main gluteal muscles, they nearly jump through the roof from pain or sensitivity. It never surprises me to hear, “Wow — I had no idea I was sore there!” or “Nobody has ever checked that before!” Even if you don’t exercise your glutes, they can still have tension or pain. An easy way to tell if you have tight gluteal muscles is the next time you’re walking in fresh snow or sand, look back at your footprints. Do your tracks consistently point outward? That’s most likely from tight gluteal muscles. Or if you’re standing for a moment waiting in line or at your desk, look at your feet. Are they pointing outward? There’s that piriformis working overtime again.

If you read my blog “Headaches, a real pain in the neck,” you know that we carry tension without even realizing it. The glutes are no different. These muscles get tense from walking, running, sitting, standing, driving, swimming — you name it. Almost all everyday situations put tension in our glutes. That’s why it’s important to let your massage therapist work on your glutes if you struggle with sciatica or low back soreness. It could be the difference between “just dealing with the pain,” and true long-lasting relief from that pain in the butt — sciatica.

Shawn Linn
Certified Massage Therapist
Lifestyle Health