Sciatica is a condition that affects as many as 40% of people at some point in their lifetimes. The sciatic nerve is the body’s longest nerve and is a very important one. The sciatic nerve pathway starts in the lower back and goes through the hips, glutes, and down the back of each leg. Sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve and is characterized by pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates from the lower back and down the back of the leg of the affected side. Pain from sciatica can manifest as an ache, burning sensation, or an electric shock.

What causes sciatica?

Sciatica is most commonly caused by a herniation of a disc of the lumbar spine. The lower back carries a lot of weight and is constantly moving, making it more vulnerable to injury. The discs are in close proximity to the spinal nerve root, which is what causes sciatic pain. When there is a herniation of the spine, daily activities and movements may aggravate sciatica such as prolonged sitting, twisting, bending, or lifting. Other causes of sciatica include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and piriformis syndrome.

Conventional treatment of sciatica often includes medications such as NSAIDs or muscle relaxants, corticosteroid injections, or even surgery. Spinal manipulation and physical therapy are also used in the treatment of sciatica.

Acupuncture for sciatica

The sciatic nerve pathway follows the same pathway as the gallbladder channel in Chinese medicine. Local acupuncture points along this channel may help to relieve tight muscles and take the pressure off of the sciatic nerve. Acupuncture also helps to restore blood flow to the area, which is essential for nourishing tissues and promoting healing. In addition to the local effects of acupuncture, acupuncture has systemic effects in treating chronic pain and inflammation. There is evidence to suggest that acupuncture has the ability to “re-map” the brain and help change the body’s response to pain.

Electric stimulation or “e-stim” is often used in combination with acupuncture for the treatment of sciatica. E-stim helps the body produce endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. There is research to support that e-stim also blocks or misdirects pain signals from entering the nervous system. To treat or even cure sciatica, it is recommended to have acupuncture on a regular basis until the pain decreases, and to then follow a maintenance regimen as directed by your acupuncturist.

Does acupuncture work for sciatica?

In a research study published by Healthcare Medicine Institute, it was found that “Acupuncture as a standalone therapy had a total effective rate of 81.6% for the relief of pain due to sciatica and restoration of normal function. Acupuncture combined with herbal medicine achieved a 95% total effective rate.”

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