Can Active Release Techniques Help With Sciatica Pain?
Updated: Aug 12
Sciatica is a painful condition that affects 10% - 40% of the population at any one time. Treating sciatica, especially sciatica that has become chronic, can be quite difficult. Treatment plans usually include exercises, physiotherapy, and painkillers, with more resistant sciatica sometimes needing surgery, including decompression surgery or surgery to seal off some of the nerves. Active Release Techniques, also known as ART, can help treat sciatica before getting to the stage where invasive treatments are needed.
What causes sciatica?
The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back to your feet and it is the largest and longest nerve in your body. Any part of the sciatic nerve can become irritated or compressed and this can cause pain that runs throughout its length. It will be on one side of your body only, and other common symptoms include:
The pain usually isn't focused on the lower back, with the pain being worse from the buttocks to the feet.
How can Active Release Techniques help treat sciatic pain?
Active Release Techniques is a soft tissue technique that aims to break down adhesions (bundles of scar tissue) that have formed in and around the muscles and connective tissue. It is different from many other soft tissue treatments because it involves the patient actively shortening and lengthening the affected muscle while the practitioner applies pressure to the adhesion.
When a muscle is overused, this causes micro-tears to form. Your body will respond to these micro-tears by forming a protective bundle of scar tissue around them. Over time, these adhesions can grow to such a size that they start to interfere with the functioning of the muscle and connective tissue. They can also cut off some of the blood supply and, crucially for sciatica, they can trap nerves.
The first stage in treating sciatica with ART is for the practitioner to assess where the problem lies. This can involve observing your gait to see if there are any obviously weak muscles that could be causing you to overcompensate and put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
By breaking up any adhesions in these muscles, they will be able to function better and you will be able to hold yourself and move in a more balanced way. This will take the pressure off your sciatic nerve. An exercise program to help strengthen the affected muscles after ART can help to prevent the sciatica from reoccurring.
Another route is to remove any adhesions that could be directly putting trapping or putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. An ART practitioner will be trained in how to feel for and identify adhesions so that they can be treated. This treatment is more successful if the adhesion is below the lower back.
Active Release Techniques can help to treat sciatica that is caused by adhesions that have either directly trapped the sciatic nerve or that have weakened the muscles on one side in a way that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. It is non-invasive and improvements can happen relatively quickly, reducing pain and restoring your quality of life.