Can Acupuncture Help With Sciatica?

Do you have sciatica?

If you’ve ever experienced it, you’ve probably tried everything to get the pain to stop. Medications, massage, stretching... But have you thought about trying acupuncture?

For those who have never had the displeasure of experiencing sciatica, it can be described as a burning sensation and/or a shooting pain that follows the path of the sciatic nerve beginning in lower back and gluteal region and radiating down the posterior and lateral leg to the feet.

What Causes Sciatica?

There are several different ways that someone can come to experience sciatica.

  • Lumbar disc degeneration or herniation

  • According to Stephen Hochsculer, MD in his article for , over 90% of sciatica incidence is caused by a herniated lumbar disc. The sciatic pain can be due to the direct compression on the nerve from a bulging disc or even the rupture of the disc where the contents of the disc will extrude out and press against the nerve. It can also be due to inflammation from some of the chemicals contained within the disc irritating the nerve.

  • Spinal stenosis

  • This is the narrowing of the spinal canal. This form is much more common in older populations and can cause pain by slowly encroaching upon the space that is occupied by the spinal cord and sciatic nerve.

  • Spondylolisthesis,

  • This is a stress fracture that causes one vertebra to slip forward over the vertebra below it. This is more commonly experienced by younger populations who sustain sports injuries or job related injuries.

  • Pregnancy

  • As you can imagine, as your baby grows larger and heavier and you get closer to your delivery date, you’re putting a lot more strain on your back, hips, and legs. This will often alter the way that you move and could potentially lead to impingement of the nerve and tightness in the muscles.

  • Tight muscles

  • Piriformis syndrome, also known as pseudosciatica results from the compression of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle. In most of the population, the piriformis will stretch over the the sciatic nerve in the gluteal region. When it gets too tight it presses on the sciatic nerve, mimicking symptoms of sciatica.

  • Trigger points may present with similar sensations to sciatica as well, particularly those that are present in the gluteus minimus.

The Answer?

Yes! Acupuncture can help relieve sciatica pain by releasing tight muscles, regulating pain signals transmitted by the nervous system, releasing endorphins and neurotransmitters to relieve pain, and improving circulation to the local area. In fact, here are two systematic reviews of research articles which found that acupuncture alone relieves pain better than medications:

In a systematic review of research articles by Ji et. all, concerning sciatica and acupuncture treatment, they were able to compare the data from relevant studies that cumulatively compared a group of sciatica patients who were treated with acupuncture (780 patients), and a group that was treated with medications (771 patients). In this study, they found that acupuncture is significantly more effective than conventional medication. They found that the group that received acupuncture experienced a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity and a greater increase in pain threshhold than the non-acupuncture group.

And this systematic review found that acupuncture consistently treated sciatica pain better than Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs.

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