Can Acupuncture Help With Sciatica?
Sciatica is a very common complaint in Canada. It is estimated that about 20-40% of the population will develop Sciatica during their lifetime; particularly those between the ages of 30 and 50 are more prone to getting this condition. Sciatica happens when part of the sciatic nerve is pinched or irritated. When it happens, patients often report a sense of numbness and tingling in the thighs and legs. Some others experience shooting pain all the way from the glutes to the feet. Let us learn more about this condition from a Chinese medicine perspective and how acupuncture may help treat it or mitigate the pain.
What Is Sciatica And What Causes It?
Sciatica is a symptom of a medical condition affecting the biggest nerve in the body – the sciatic nerve. It is the largest nerve in the human body and it serves an important role in connecting the spinal cord with the skin and muscles of the thigh, leg, and foot. When irritated, it results in lower back pain and sometimes affects the buttock area. In other words, it does not necessarily indicate an illness, rather it may be a signal that there’s an issue somewhere else in your body. In most cases, the underlying ailment originates in the spine. This is why the causes of sciatica include lumbar spinal stenosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, and piriformis syndrome. Also, it is quite common for women to experience sciatica pain during pregnancy.
Risk factors includes heavy lifting with improper posture, sports injuries, obesity, prolonged sitting, and aging. If left untreated, sciatica can lead to nerve damage, bowel or bladder incontinence, and loss of feeling in the affected leg.
How Does Acupuncture Treat Sciatica?
When you come in for a treatment, the acupuncturist will examine your symptoms and conduct a comprehensive diagnosis. After assessing your condition, the practitioner will insert thin needles at certain points on your body (could be anywhere from 3 – 7 needles). It works to open up the meridians and blocked qi flow to the area; releasing dopamine/serotonin and increasing the flow of pain-killing chemicals, leading to pain relief.
From a Traditional Chinese medicine lens, Sciatica is classified into the category of Bi syndrome. The most common cause of sciatica is due to ‘blood stagnation’. Blood stagnation in TCM terms means that the blood is not flowing or circulating as optimally as it could, often resulting in pain. Blood stagnation can affect the soft tissue of the lumbar spine, hips and pelvis, which is what causes the muscles to spasm creating extra tension that triggers the shooting pain associated with sciatica.
Let us take a look at some of the common acupuncture points used for treating Sciatica.
Acupuncture Points For Sciatica:
Gallbladder 30 (Huantiao): This point is located at the junction of the lateral 1/3 and medial 2/3 distance between the prominence of the greater trochanter and the hiatus of the sacrum (GV 2), (located with the patient in a lateral recumbent position with thigh flexed). Often used for Sciatica, lower limb paralysis, sequelae of cerebrovascular disease, low back and leg pain.
Gallbladder 34 (Yanglingquan): Located on the lateral aspect of the lower leg, in the depression anterior and inferior to the head of the fibula. Indicated for weakness, numbness and pain of the lower extremities, swelling and pain of the knee.
Urinary Bladder 40 (Weizhong): Located directly in the middle of the crease at the back of each knee. This point is great for clearing blood and discharges heat. Helps soothes the sinews and frees the connecting vessels; dispels wind-damp; disinhibits the lumbus and knees.
How Effective Is Acupuncture At Treating Sciatica?
Clinical studies done by Chinese acupuncturists in 2015 showed that acupuncture was more effective than conventional Western medicine (CWM) in outcomes effectiveness, reducing pain intensity, and pain threshold with the reported adverse effects being acceptable and tolerable.1
Studies have shown that in most cases acupuncture is safe, with few side effects, and much less invasive than some of the more modern medical options involving surgeries and drugs. Further, acupuncture can help to reprogram the muscles to stay in a relaxed position and help manage pain by releasing natural painkillers in your body.
How To Manage Sciatica?
Based on TCM dietary and lifestyle recommendations for sciatica, try to avoid foods that creates dampness in the body like fried, greasy, spicy and any dairy. Do try to add more potassium to your diet like bananas, oranges, and potatoes. Increase intake of vegetables like kidney beans, soybeans, and black beans is also recommended.
It may seem counterintuitive, but daily exercise and light stretching is beneficial. The low back and lumbar spine may become weak if they are not being used, so long periods of inactivity can actually be detrimental to the condition.
*It is advisable to consult a professional health practitioner before beginning any diet and lifestyle recommendations.