Sciatica can be a debilitating pain, confusing and overwhelming for those experiencing it. Pharmaceutical pain medications and surgery are typical treatment methods your doctor might recommend, but may not always be the choice you are looking for, and may not even help! A less invasive treatment method being used more and more often is acupuncture, and treatment for your sciatica is available in my acupuncture practice in Sebastopol located in the heart of West County serving surrounding areas of Bodega, Guerneville, Occidental, Graton, and Forestville.
If you are experiencing numbness, burning, tingling, sharp shooting pains, throbbing sensations in your legs and/or feet, you may have sciatica. The pain can be felt anywhere from the buttocks, down the back and/or sides of the leg and to the ankles and can come with or without back pain. Sciatica may also come with weakness of the leg that is affected. One or both legs can be impacted by the sciatic nerve impingement.
Common causes include intervertebral disc herniation and spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal). If you can understand a simple version of the anatomy and function of the spine and nerves, you will understand why you’re feeling these unbearable sensations.
Your spine, or your backbone, travels from your lower back up through your neck to your skull and with it travels a network of nerves that branch out and innervate all of the tissues of your body, including in this case your glutes (butt) legs and feet. The sciatic nerve branches out from the spine in your lower back (the lumbar region) traveling through the glute area down the back of your leg to the heel, on the outer aspect of your lower leg (calf) and the outer ankle area. When the nerve becomes impinged, or pinched on, it will create these painful symptoms of numbness, tingling, shooting pains, etc. There are two main areas where the sciatic nerve gets impinged on, either at its root in the spinal canal in the lumbar region of the lower back where it leaves the spine, or in a muscle in your butt called the piriformis. The latter is called “piriformis syndrome” and we can talk about that in a future blog. Today let’s focus on nerve root compression that occurs at the spine.
Nerve root compression is most commonly caused by a bulging disc or herniated disc, bony irregularities (like spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis or osteoarthritic osteophytes). All of these conditions will create a pressure on the nerve at the spine, and that basically is what is commonly referred to as a “pinched nerve” and results in the symptoms you are feeling with sciatica. In the case of a bulging disc, the disc between the vertebrae of the spine pushes out and presses on the nerve. In the case of the bony irregularities, there is literally bone that builds up on the spine near the nerve, and the growth will begin to press on the nerve.
I have been successful treating many cases of sciatica in my acupuncture clinic. By inserting the small needles into specific places in your body, a nervous system response is triggered that leads your brain to release endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural pain killers. It will also increase blood flow to the area, which will promote healing; the increased blood flow will bring oxygen and nutrients to the injured area, as well as help flush out metabolic waste that was created as a result of the injury. Acupuncture can also help relax the muscles in the surrounding area. In the case of the ruptured or bulging disc, acupuncture is most effective for helping to heal the disc’s tissue. Tuina massage and CranioSacral Therapy are both excellent treatment methods I use for treating bone spurs as well as disc degenerations or traumas.
In acute cases, a patient may get relief within 2-3 treatments. For more chronic issues it could take up to 8-12 treatments depending on the specific circumstances of the incurring injury.
Some patients are curious about how their diet can help with their symptoms. Here are some foods that are recommended to patients with sciatica:
Meta-analysis shows acupuncture a clinically relevant option for sciatica
This research compared 122 different studies to determine the clinical effectiveness of various treatment strategies for sciatica. Researchers found a statistically significant improvement in patients who received acupuncture. This study shows us that there are a variety of options to consider when treating sciatic pain and that acupuncture can be of particular therapeutic value, especially when coupled with other pain-management techniques. More information here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24412033
Acupuncture shown to have pain-relieving effect on sciatica
This study compared 2 methods for treating sciatic pain using acupuncture. Method 1 used 1-2 needles in the gluteal area. Method 2 called for several needles at various points on the body along with 1-2 needles in the gluteal area. Researchers found both methods to be successful, with method 1 providing slightly more relief. This finding is an indication that very few needles can be used to treat sciatic pain, as long as proper point selection is maintained. More information here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21692291
Chase L. Desso, LAc