By Mary Vincent, L.Ac.
Many people think of acupuncture in relation to helping ease general low back aches and pains, but did you know it is also incredibly effective in reducing and easing symptoms associated with sciatica?
Sciatica [sahy-at-i-kuh] is caused either by compression or irritation to one of the lower lumbar
or sacral nerves that lead directly to the larger sciatic nerve (located in the buttocks), or by compression or irritation directly to the sciatic nerve itself. Symptoms of sciatica often include low back or hip pain but will also consists of all or some of the following complaints:
▪ Deep gluteal pain
▪ Pain that radiates down the side or back of the leg, sometimes past the knee and/or into the foot
▪ Paresthesias–otherwise known as “pins and needles”, tingling, burning, or numbness in the leg or foot
The main causes of sciatica are as follows:
▪ Spinal Disc Herniation: This occurs when the gelatinous substance within the spinal disc protrudes out and presses on the surrounding spinal nerves, causing pain to those nerves directly and to associated nerves (such as the sciatic nerve).
▪ Piriformis Syndrome: A less common cause of sciatic pain, it is caused by the spasm of the piriformis muscle (which runs from the sacrum into the buttocks). The spasm of this muscle then compresses or squeezes the sciatic nerve.
▪ Pregnancy: Pressure caused by the weight of the growing fetus can lead to compression of the sciatic nerve.
How can acupuncture help sciatic pain?
▪ Acupuncture may change and improve circulation in blood flow leading to the sciatic nerve (Inoue, 2008).
▪ Acupuncture stimulates the nerves, thereby leading to a release of endorphins in the body. This then changes how the brain perceives and processes pain. This makes it particularly effective in conditions, such as sciatica, where there is neuropathic pain (Pomeranz, 1995).
▪ One of the best benefits of reducing your pain with acupuncture is that it minimizes the need for invasive surgeries, and can lessen or diminish the need for internal medicines.
A vast majority of cases involve needling points on the side of the leg and foot, combined with specific points in the hands.
What to expect from treatment at BCA:
Here at BCA, I don’t think a day goes by when we don’t see several patients walk through our door with pain related to sciatica. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sciatica usually involves what we would consider a stagnation of energy in the channels that run through the buttocks and down the side and/or back of the leg (the Urinary Bladder and Gallbladder channels). A vast majority of cases involve needling points on the side of the leg and foot, combined with specific points in the hands. It is typically best to start with a series of 4-6 treatments close together (meaning every day or every other day for 4-6 days).
After that the length of time, severity, and underlying reason for your symptoms will determine your particular course of treatment. We have patients in which symptoms are completely gone after that point, and we have patients who need to come regularly as part of an ongoing plan to keep their symptoms at bay. It is important that once symptoms have subsided, that you return for an immediate treatment at the first sign of symptoms resurfacing in the future. It is much easier for us to reduce and diminish the pain right at the onset of symptoms.
Inoue, Kitakoji, Yano, Ishizaki, Itoi, Katsumi. Acupuncture Treatment for Low Back Pain and Lower
Limb Symptoms—The Relation between Acupuncture or Electroacupuncture Stimulation and Sciatic Nerve Blood Flow. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 June; 5(2): 133–143.Published online 2007 June 28