How Pope Francis Manages His Sciatica Pain

Massages and spinal injections are the papal prescription for low back and leg pain.

Written by Kelly Rehan

If you suffer from the low back and leg symptoms of sciatica, the pope feels your pain. Reports reveal that Pope Francis has spent part of his 2017 summer receiving spinal injections and massage therapy to help manage his sciatica.

Sciatica is severe low back and leg pain that runs along the course of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest and largest nerve in your body. The sciatic nerve extends from your low back all the way down to your foot. Several spinal disorders can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica, including a herniated disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and trauma (you may read more about these conditions in common sciatica causes). The root cause of Pope Francis’ sciatica is unclear.

The 80-year-old pope has suffered from sciatica for years, having first commented on his struggle with it in a 2013 during a press conference when he said, “Sciatica is very painful, very painful! I don’t wish it on anyone!”

More recently, the pope has received epidural steroid injections and massages twice a week to manage his sciatica pain, according to the Italian news magazine Famiglia Cristiana.

How Spinal Injections and Massage Can Help Relieve Sciatica
Pope Francis’ regimen of epidural steroid injections and massages underscores the fact that while the pain of sciatica can be intense—almost indescribable—spine surgery isn’t always the answer. The pope’s non-surgical approach to sciatica pain management is one that many people suffering from the condition adopt.

With epidural steroid injections, powerful anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids are injected near the spinal nerve roots. The treatment works with varying success, but some people experience reduced pain for months after an injection.

With massage, a therapist can target the muscle tension that may be compressing the sciatic nerve or related nerve roots. Deep tissue massage therapy may be type of massage used, as it uses direct pressure and friction to release the tension in the soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, muscles) surrounding the sciatic nerve.

Exploring More About Sciatica
For a one-stop-shop on the basics of sciatica, visit the Sciatica Slideshow. If you’re looking for a deeper dive, read What You Need to Know About Sciatica Now, which features sciatica expertise straight from a spine specialist.

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Alternative Treatments for Sciatica: Acupuncture, Acupressure, Biofeedback, and Yoga