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March 17, 2013

Acupuncture for sciatica - Treatment options

Written by: Matthew Wagner, L.Ac., M.S.O.M.

Sciatica can be an aggravating condition, which, while generally not “serious”, can negatively impact one’s quality of life.  When the sciatic nerve is irritated, it can keep a person from doing the things they enjoy, such as running, dancing, or even walking.  It can make you squirm in your chair at work.  It can even create a constant pain that can keep you up at night.  Unfortunately, Sciatica may not respond well to conventional treatment, which may rely heavily on pain killers for typical presentations, and may even include surgery for more serious conditions.  Such treatments also carry with them additional risks of complication from liver and kidney toxicity (from the use of NSAIDs), as well as the risks from invasive surgery.  Fortunately, most types of Sciatica typically respond very well to Acupuncture, and the successful treatment of sciatica with Acupuncture gives people a better chance at avoiding serious complications.

Sciatica is caused by an impingement, or blocking of the nerve, at some point in the course of it’s path.  This can occur, most commonly, as a result of narrowing of the nerve canal, herniation of the disc, slipping of the disc, or tight musculature.  Where this block occurs can create specific patterns of pain, which can include; sharp pain down the back of the leg (which can run to the heel); pain in the buttocks and side of the leg, (which can wrap around the knee); and pain in the top of the foot and big toe.  

Conventional treatment of Sciatica typically includes avoiding activities that aggravate the pain, on the one hand, and the use of heat and anti-inflammatory drugs, to relax tight musculature, on the other.  For serious cases, treatment options include steroids, opioids, and even surgery.  For this reason, patients with sciatica are typically referred to Acupuncturists, massage therapists, physical therapists, or chiropractors.  In many cases, sciatica can benefit from the combined use of different modalities.  However, for most types of sciatica, Acupuncture is perhaps the most effective stand-alone treatment.  

Acupuncture can be of tremendous benefit for anyone suffering from sciatica, because of its ability to directly relax deep, hard to reach muscles, as well as its ability to alter perceptions of pain.  For example; 

  1. Acupuncture can directly reach and relax the deep muscle tension of the piriformis muscle.  This is a very deep muscle of the buttocks, which is hard to reach, painful to massage, and difficult to get to relax.  Acupuncture can reduce inflammation and increase microcirculation in this tissue. 
  2. Acupuncture can make physical therapy more effective by relaxing muscles and allowing them to respond better to strengthening exercises.  
  3. Acupuncture can effectively relax the deep, hard to reach muscles of the spine, preventing further subluxation. 
  4. Acupuncture can directly alter one’s perception of pain, by stimulating the release of endorphins, serotonin, and norepinephrine.   
  5. Acupuncture can directly benefit the nerve by improving blood flow and promoting regeneration.  

If you, or someone you know, suffers from sciatica, consider Acupuncture - even if (or especially if) you’ve tried other therapies that haven’t worked.  It is oftentimes both the most effective, and cost-effective solution.