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  • Writer's pictureMegan Cottrell

Healing Sciatica Through Craniosacral Therapy

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Tingling, burning, shooting pain… sciatica can literally be a pain in the butt (and down the whole leg!). If you’ve ever had sciatica, you know it can be uncomfortable or downright debilitating, and medical treatment isn’t always effective. But craniosacral therapy can offer a gentle alternative treatment and deep, long-lasting relief!

Maria experiences sciatic pain every few years, and each time it flares up, it stops her in her tracks. Just something as simple as walking to the kitchen, sitting down or getting out of bed causes intense shooting pain. This time, her daughter suggested she try craniosacral therapy, and she’s glad she did.

“Each time I went to see Kelly, I could feel myself relaxing more and more. I could feel the change in my body. I think that helped me more than any physical therapy or anything else. It not only helped me physically, but mentally, too,” says Maria.

Read on to hear more of Maria’s story and discover the power of craniosacral therapy to help with a compressed sciatic nerve and sciatic nerve pain.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica or sciatic pain results from the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body. It runs from the lower back all the way down to the foot. If any part of it gets compressed, it can result in a myriad of different symptoms - numbness or weakness, tingling, and pain, either constant or intermittent shooting pain, sometimes described as being like an electrical shock. It usually makes it difficult to walk, sit, bend or sleep comfortably, so you can see why it can be quite a debilitating condition.

For a long time, it was thought that sciatica was only caused by a slipped or herniated disc in the spine, pressing on the sciatic nerve, and surgery was offered as the main treatment. However, newer research has revealed that although a disc-related problem may cause sciatica, a much more common cause is piriformis syndrome, a condition where the piriformis muscle is pressing on the sciatic nerve and triggering symptoms. This has allowed for more treatment options for sciatica, which is good because only 20 percent of patients were eligible for surgery, and of those, one third of those people didn’t find relief through surgery.

When it comes to releasing muscle and tissue tension, craniosacral therapy is a very gentle but effective alternative to surgery or even physical therapy. Physical therapy often involves movement or exercises that can trigger the pain of sciatica, making it more uncomfortable before the pain begins to lessen. Even massage can be painful for those experiencing sciatica. In contrast, craniosacral therapy is so gentle that it provides relief from pain without requiring the person to “grin and bear it” through the tough parts, introducing even more tension into the body.

Sciatica is also a common complaint during pregnancy. The hormones of pregnancy cause the body’s ligaments to loosen slightly, which can cause shifts in the position of the bones and muscles, leading to pressure on the sciatic nerve. The growing baby and uterus can also put pressure on this long nerve, leading to shooting pain or numbness. As a former doula and with extensive experience working with moms through the childbearing year, Kelly has seen extremely positive results working with clients to relieve the very common phenomenon of sciatic pain during pregnancy.

How Does Craniosacral Therapy Treat Sciatica?

Craniosacral therapy works on three main systems of the body — the central nervous system, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, and the musculoskeletal system. All three of these systems can be part of the patterns of sciatic pain.

A craniosacral therapist feels for the cerebrospinal fluid throughout the body. The cerebrospinal fluid is continually being pumped through the central nervous system. By feeling the flutter of the cerebrospinal fluid in paired joints, the therapist can assess where there might be tension that is disrupting the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid and the central nervous system.

Craniosacral seeks to work with the body’s existing healing patterns, unhooking the tension within tissues, starting by working from where the therapist finds the body willing to release tension and continuing in the direction of ease, rather than trying to force the body into the desired pattern. By going the direction of ease, we allow the tissues to unwind themselves and then enable the tissues to go where we were hoping to increase range of motion in the first place. By doing this work in the musculoskeletal system, craniosacral therapy then supports better flow of the cerebrospinal fluid as well as the function of the central nervous system.

When a patient is experiencing sciatica, the therapist will feel for places within the body where tension might be disrupting the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. The therapist gently places their hands on that part of the body until they feel a series of pulses and releases, indicating that the tissue is beginning to release its tension. The therapist continues along this pathway, feeling for other spots of tension and releases, always going in the direction of ease. When releases pause in that area, the therapist may move onto another spot or continue to work on another series of releases from that spot.

Maria says just by walking into Craniosacral Therapy Center of Grand Rapids, she started to feel better.

“As soon as I walked in there, I loved Kelly. She’s just a wonderful, wonderful woman. She just has an aura about her. Just walking in and speaking with her helped me to relax,” says Maria.

Maria noted that this relaxation was really important to her because her level of tension had been building and building. Each movement she made with sciatica caused pain, which caused her level of tension to rise, potentially worsening her condition. Receiving craniosacral therapy started to disrupt that pain and tension cycle and also to target the areas of tension in her body that were causing the sciatica.

“As Kelly held each part of my body or a position, I could feel something changing in me in that part of my body,” says Maria.

As an alternative to massage, chiropractic or physical therapy for pain in the body, craniosacral can be especially beneficial because of its gentleness and approach of working in the direction of ease, rather than trying to force the body into the right position or way of working. Our clients with sciatica have experienced reduction in pain intensity, frequency and increased range of motion and abilities through receiving craniosacral therapies.

Maria says she did see a physical therapist and did the movement exercises and stretches she was assigned, but some of them seemed to make her condition even worse. By contrast, craniosacral provided physical relief from pain that was also relaxing.

“I think physical therapy can help up to a point, but I think craniosacral therapy addresses more than just your body,” says Maria. “It addresses your mind, your nervous system, your whole being, which is something you just can’t get through physical therapy or taking a pill and having the pain go away. It puts you in a whole different mindset.”

This past fall, Kelly had the privilege of working with a professional ballerina and mindset coach. Although the majority of clients tend not to notice the extremely subtle releases on their body while they are happening, her attunement to her own body allowed her to notice them as they were happening, and she was astonished. “This is wild," she said. “No one has ever treated my body with such kindness.” She had always operated in a “no pain, no gain” model, and so she was astonished by the difference she could feel from such gentle treatment.

Try Craniosacral Therapy for Your Sciatic Pain

If you’ve experienced sciatica or sciatic pain, consider booking an appointment at Craniosacral Therapy Center of Grand Rapids. Someone from our team will talk with you about your symptoms and experiences in your intake session and start providing treatment in that same appointment. Generally, it takes a few appointments for sciatic pain to resolve completely, but your therapist can work with you on a treatment schedule that works for your situation. Call us today.



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