Sciatica is a condition in which the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve become irritated, causing pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the region that this nerve serves. The pain usually begins in the low back or buttock, refers down the leg, and may continue as far as the foot. One cause of sciatica is piriformis syndrome, in which the muscle surrounding the sciatic nerve spasms, impinging on the nerve and causing pain. It is also believed that sciatica can be caused by conditions of the spine including bulging or ruptured discs, arthritis, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, or a pinched nerve, though not everyone with these conditions experiences sciatic pain.
Acupuncture is a safe, natural alternative
The most commonly recommended treatments for sciatica include avoiding being in any position for too long that aggravates the pain, over the counter pain relievers, heat therapy and stretching. If symptoms do not improve, doctors may prescribe steroid injections, muscle relaxants, opioids or surgery. Some find that the more gentle recommended treatments are simply not effective, and that most of the prescribed treatments are also either not effective or raise concerns of the repercussions of long term pharmaceutical use. This is why many people turn to acupuncture for treatment. Acupuncture is proven to ease the pain of sciatica naturally, and to keep it from returning.
Proven effective in multiple studies
In one meta-analysis of 12 studies involving 1842 participants, results showed that acupuncture was more effective than conventional Western medicine in outcome effectiveness, pain intensity, and pain threshold . Another study from the Rizhao Hospital of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and the Shanghai University of TCM found that acupuncture for the relief of pain due to sciatica and restoration of normal function had a total effective rate of 81.6%. The same study found that acupuncture combined with Chinese herbal medicine achieved a 95% total effective rate . For links to these studies and more, see the Resources and Related Links section below.
The physiology behind acupuncture
Physiologically, acupuncture works by shifting the release of biochemicals in the nervous system. Effects of this include a decrease in inflammation both generally and locally, as well as increased circulation in the area being treated. Acupuncture has also been found to influence the release of naturally occurring pain relievers within the body, such as endogenous opioids and endorphins. All of this results in a decrease in pain and an increase in well being.
Sciatica in Traditional Chinese Medicine
The diagnosis and treatment of sciatica in Traditional Chinese Medicine involves identifying patterns of imbalance in the body as a whole rather than merely treating symptoms. This form of differential diagnosis is one reason that acupuncture treatment is so effective for relief of sciatic pain. Some common imbalances underlying sciatica in TCM include "kidney qi vacuity", "spleen qi vacuity with dampness", and "liver qi stagnation". Please note that even though these imbalances use the names of familiar organs, they each refer to a more complex functional system in TCM. Having an imbalance involving the name of an organ does not suggest that there is a problem with this organ. Below is a generalized differentiation of each:
Kidney Qi Vacuity: Those with this imbalance experience that their back feels very weak and their pain does not get better with rest. Other symptoms include weakness or pain of the knees, extreme fatigue, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.
Spleen Qi Vacuity with Dampness: Those with this imbalance also experience fatigue and weakness, but their pain does feel better with rest. Other symptoms include a sensation of heaviness in the body, as well as digestive issues such as bloating or reflux.
Liver Qi stagnation: This imbalance causes muscles to be very tight and spasm, especially during stressful situations. Other symptoms include headaches, neck pain, and painful menses in women.
Other patterns of imbalance can be involved as well. Only a licensed and board certified acupuncturist is qualified to make this kind of diagnosis and perform a safe, effective acupuncture treatment. At Wisdom Traditions Acupuncture of Essex Junction, Vermont, our resident acupuncturist Marni Adhikari holds a Masters degree in Acupuncture from the Maryland University for Integrative Health, and is licensed and board certified. She has helped many people experience relief from the pain of sciatica, and find greater ease in life through acupuncture.
If you're interested in learning more about Wisdom Traditions Acupuncture, you can read About Us or Our Philosophy. To read more about acupuncture and sciatica or review specific research, see the resources and related links below. To learn more about acupuncture, take a look at What Is Acupuncture or How Acupuncture Works. If you have any additional questions, feel free to Contact Us or Schedule an Appointment Online.
Resources & Related Links