Treating Sciatica with Acupuncture

“Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the United States and a common reason for missing work,” according to Timothy S. Carey, M.D. who was the principle investigator in a study done at the UNC School of Medicine.

As an acupuncturist and healthcare provider I would say that 40% of my practice are people seeking relief for low back pain and/or sciatica. Of the other 60% who have come in with another chief complaint, upon completing a full health history during the initial appointment a majority of them list low back pain or radiculopathy (radiating nerve pain, numbness or tingling) as a secondary or tertiary complaint.

The increased amount of time people are spending at a desk in front of a computer in combination with lack of stretching, strengthening exercises and poor posture from hours of sitting is one major contributor to the rise in low back issues.

Low back pain and Sciatica are actually different from each other. There may be multiple causes of low back pain, but sciatic pain is related to an issue of inflammation or compression specifically of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve emanates from the lower lumbar spine and passes through the buttocks, down the back of each leg, to the soles of the feet and the big toes. Pain associated with sciatica is usually severe, sharp and stabbing and you may also experience numbness, tingling, weakness or sensitivity to touch.

Some causes of Low Back pain:

  • Muscle spasm

  • Degenerative disc disease

  • Facet joint dysfunction

  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

  • Spinal stenosis

  • Spondylolisthesis

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Deformity

Some causes of Sciatic pain:

  • Lumbar herniated disc. The jelly-like center of a lumbar disc can break through the tough outer layer and irritate a nearby nerve root.

  • Injury or trauma

  • Years of bending and sitting for long stretches

  • Osteoarthritis (narrowing of the opening through which the nerve roots exit the lower spine, injuring the nerve fibers)

  • Piriformis syndrome (piriformis muscle in the buttock compresses the sciatic nerve)

“As many as 40% of people will get sciatica during their life, and it becomes more frequent as you age. People who suffer from acute or chronic back pain tend to be more susceptible to sciatica," says Dr. Jeffrey N. Katz, professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.

What are your treatment options?

  • Rest

  • Ice: 15-20 minutes, 3 times per day, during first 72 hours to bring down inflammation

  • Ibuprofen

  • Acupuncture

Preventative Care (once you are out of pain):

  • Get moving (low impact activities like water aerobics, riding a stationary bike, daily back stretching and even yoga)

  • Exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the spine, which may take some pressure off your discs.

  • Proper posture and body mechanics (For more information read Sandra Blackie’s article below, “Lifting Posture – Neutral Spine”)

  • Acupuncture

How acupuncture alleviates low back pain and sciatica:

Acupuncture helps to reduce pain and inflammation by stimulating specific acupuncture points on the body, which trigger the brain to release neurotransmitters & endorphins (the body’s natural pain relievers). This stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary system also regulates our serotonin and dopamine production, which help our body to relax and feel joy. By focusing on acupuncture points of the lower back and legs it is helping to reduce muscle tension and bring more circulation and endorphins to the area, allowing the body to resume healing.

For 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 other circumstances, such as disc herniation, stenosis, etc. Acupuncture and strengthening exercises are a great place to start the healing process of low back pain and sciatica.

Your acupuncturist and Personal trainer or Physical Therapist can also work with you in creating a maintenance routine once your back is healed to help you avoid any recurrence in the future.

If you would like to get more information on acupuncture for your low back pain or sciatica you can call Nicole to set up a free 30 minute consultation, 858.291.8581

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