Are you feeling a throbbing pain in your waist and hips every time you make a transition from sitting to standing or a similar movement? If you may be suffering from a condition called sciatica. Dealing with any sharp or nagging pain can affect your daily activities. If you’re looking for immediate relief for sciatica pain or potential sciatica treatment, you may be surprised to learn about the benefits of acupuncture. We’ll cover what acupuncture is and how to alleviate sciatica pain with it.
Can Acupuncture Help With Sciatica?
Acupuncture for sciatica pain relief is backed by science. While it may not be proven to work in all cases, it does have some strong evidence for it. Many studies have performed extensive research that strongly supports acupuncture as a form of treatment and pain management for sciatica. Here's why acupuncture has provides therapeutic benefits and is effective for sciatica:
Endorphin release: Several studies on acupuncture indicate that the body releases its own natural substances called endorphins in response to needle insertion, providing pain relief and improving mood
Stimulated blood flow: Research also indicates that acupuncture stimulates blood flow at the site of treatment, allowing for muscle relaxation, reduction of inflammation, and improved healing
Central Nervous System reaction: Preliminary research suggests that acupuncture may stimulate a response in the brain that blocks pain signals and alters the way the body perceives pain
Sciatica, Causes, and Symptoms
Your sciatic nerve begins at your spinal cord, runs through your hips and buttocks, and then branches down each leg. The sciatic nerve is your body’s longest nerve and one of the most important ones. It has a direct effect on your ability to control and feel your legs. When this nerve is irritated, you’ll experience sciatica.
Sciatica involves a sensation that can manifest itself as a moderate to severe pain in your back, buttocks, and legs. You may also feel weakness, burning or sharp pain, or numbness in these areas. Sciatica is a symptom caused by an underlying injury to your sciatic nerve or an area that affects the nerve, such as your vertebrae, which are the bones in your neck and back.
The causes of sciatica include spinal injury or trauma, bone spurs or other growths, narrowing of the spinal canal, or tight or swollen muscles in the buttock. In many cases, people can’t pinpoint a specific injury that caused the condition. Risk factors for sciatica include:
age-related changes to the spine
obesity, which can put extra pressure on the spine
occupations where you twist the spine or pick up heavy loads
diabetes, which can increase the risk of nerve damage
If you’re experiencing pain that shoots from your lower back through your buttock area and into your lower limbs. Sciatica is the result of damage or injury to your sciatic nerve, so other symptoms of nerve damage are usually present with the pain. Other symptoms may include the following:
pain that gets worse with movement
numbness, burning, or weakness in your legs or feet along your sciatic nerve pathway, which may become a loss of feeling or movement in severe cases
the sensation of pins and needles, which involves a painful tingling in your toes or feet
incontinence, the inability to control your bladder or bowels, which calls for immediate emergency attention
You may be wondering how to diagnose sciatica? You should always seek medical help from a doctor to ensure you’re dealing with sciatica and not another more severe condition.
Acupuncture points for sciatica pain
Where will the needles go for sciatica? Different acupuncturists will use different protocols based on their background and the patient’s particular constellation of issues. Our clinic will often use a protocol that involves the insertion of needles in the following areas:
inside of the lower calf/ankle
along the wrist/forearm area
This would be considered “distal” needling as opposed to “local” needling. With distal needling, acupoints are inserted in locations different–or at a distance–from the site of pain. Chinese medicine makes use of the connections between different body areas, which means that points in the above areas are able to send blood flow to areas appropriate to help heal sciatic nerve pain.
Benefits of acupuncture for sciatica
Acupuncture is intrinsically connected to the nervous system; thus, it may help relieve tension, headaches, and migraines. It helps back pain and sciatica by
Reducing inflammation by promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.
Increasing the levels of serotonin and noradrenaline helps to reduce pain and speeds up nerve repair.
Promoting the regeneration of the sciatic nerve.
Triggering the release of natural opioids that help with pain and promote sleep.
Speeding the relay of electromagnetic signals which begins the flow of pain-killing chemicals.
Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing the local microcirculation helps spread or disperse the swelling you might be facing.
Stimulating nerves in the body are located explicitly in muscles and other tissues, leading to the release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors. It also changes how the brain and spinal cord process pain.
Acupuncture For Lower Back Pain & Sciatica
The most common treatments for sciatic pain involve:
surgery(to repair the underlying structural issues in the lower back)
epidural steroid injections,
Regular acupuncture treatments offer a safe and gentle alternative for pain management. A large proportion of our patients with sciatica have responded very well to acupuncture. This included patients seeking both:
acute pain relief,
help with managing and resolving their condition over time.
So how does acupuncture for sciatica pain really work? While acupuncture cannot heal the structural issues of the lower back that cause sciatica, it is a useful, side-effect-free treatment for the management of pain. At Natural Care Chiropractic, we typically treat sciatic pain by placing acupuncture needles along the inside of the lower calf/ankle and along the wrist/forearm area. We take a two-pronged approach, targeting:
the lower back, to increase blood flow and muscle relaxation around the lumbar vertebrae;
The sciatic nerve influences muscle relaxation and blood flow regulation along the pathway of the pain in the leg.
When it comes to relieving burning pain, nerve pain, or sciatica pain from pregnancy, research suggests that “the use of acupuncture may be more effective than drugs and may enhance the effect of drugs for patients with sciatica, but because of the insufficient number of relevant and rigorous studies, the evidence is limited.”
Other studies have shown that acupuncture is ‘superior to no treatment in improving pain intensity, disability, functioning, well-being, and range of mobility immediately after the treatment.
In fact, according to a report prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ‘the benefit of CAM treatments was mostly evident immediately or shortly after the end of the treatment and then faded with time’ in relation to pain treatment.
Acupuncture Vs. Medication
Three results of three studies included in Ji’s meta-analysis entitled: The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica revealed that subjects receiving acupuncture experienced ‘a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity than those who received conventional medication.’ Medications included Ibuprofen, Prednisone, and Diclofenac.
According to researchers performed a pooled analysis of nine studies with 780 patients in the acupuncture group and 771 in the medication group revealed that acupuncture was significantly more effective than conventional medication.” Furthermore, this research team did a comprehensive search of eight electronic databases, accessing twelve studies with 1842 participants in their review. According to the researchers, ‘analysis of outcomes revealed that acupuncture is more effective than medication for individuals with sciatica for effectiveness, pain intensity, and pain threshold.’
The conclusion from the researchers is that ‘acupuncture is clinically effective, reduces pain intensity, and increases pain threshold in patients with sciatica compared with medication.’ Success rates were determined using strict guidelines, calculated and plotted against a graph to determine the outcomes, and included the number of patients cured, markedly improved, and improved against the sample size of participants in the study.