Sciatica is a syndrome that causes debilitating pain. For managing chronic lower back and sciatica, a traditional therapy — known as acupuncture — has become popular. Sciatica can be treated with acupuncture, which involves inserting needles at specific pressure points on the body to relieve the pain. It may look counterintuitive; needles don’t cause pain or discomfort but provide pain relief.
Read on to find more about how acupuncture treatment works for lower back pain? How does it work? Precautions and much more.
What is Acupuncture?
With acupuncture, thin, solid, metallic needles are inserted into the skin, which is then stimulated by a practitioner’s hand or by electrical stimulation.
Chinese medicine practitioners believe that the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians.
Energy flows (Qi, pronounced “chee”) through these pathways, which influence overall health. Acupuncture is believed to improve health by improving the flow of Qi by applying it to certain points, which can disrupt the energy flow.
Acupuncture is proved to be effective in various medical conditions like:
- Lower back pain or sciatica
- Reducing Inflammation
- Neck pain
- Knee pain
- Headache and migraine
- Musculoskeletal Pain
- Post-surgery Recovery
In this article, I will specifically discuss sciatica and acupuncture’s role in it.
Does Acupuncture Help Sciatica?
Yes, acupuncture is found to be one of the safest treatments to cure sciatica. It is the best alternative to other surgical and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers.
With acupuncture, tight muscles are relaxed, blood circulation is improved, the nervous system is regulated, and neurotransmitters are released to reduce pain.
How Acupuncture Helps Back Pain and Sciatica?
The traditional Chinese medical system has identified more than 2000 energy points connected by pathways – known as “meridians” – that may cause painful nerves and muscles. The stimulation of these meridians also stimulates the central nervous system (CNS).
In the human body, qi is said to flow through meridians. 350 acupuncture points are located on the body to access these meridians.
By inserting needles into these points, with the appropriate combinations, the energy flow is said to be brought back into balance.
In spite of the lack of scientific proof that meridians or acupuncture points exist, and it’s hard to prove that they do or don’t, numerous studies suggest that acupuncture can help in certain conditions.
In addition to increasing blood flow, this stimulation stimulates the body’s natural painkillers.
According to some studies, acupuncture provides similar benefits as a placebo, while others have found some real benefits.
What are the Acupuncture Points for Lower Back Pain?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) suggests there are two key acupuncture points for treating sciatica,
- Gallbladder meridian of the foot-Shaoyang (GB) and the bladder meridian of the foot-Taiyang (BL)
- The Yanglingquan (GB 34) and Huantiao (GB 30)
According to TCM, placing needles at these points can release blocked qi energy, while Western medicine believes these pins stimulate the CNS.
By placing pins at specific points, acupuncture can trigger healing responses in the body: an immune-like response can be induced, resulting in an increase in blood flow. Blood flow accelerates the healing process.
Following are the points mostly targeted through needles during acupuncture.
- Lower Back Points
- Foot Points
- Hip Points
- Stomach Points
- Knee Back Points
Your acupuncturists will take the complete medical history from you:
- The current symptoms of sciatica
- How long have these sciatica flare-ups lasted, and what triggers these?
- Your lifestyle and exercise
- Medical history of your family
- Accidents, traumas, and stressful life events
In order to evaluate whether the meridians on both sides of your body are blocked or overworked, your acupuncturist will look for their pulses. As a result, the treatment will begin; acupuncture pins will be inserted into the sciatica acupuncture points in order to begin the healing process.
This will take about 20-30 minutes, and you will be asked to relax and take deep breaths during the process.
Is Acupuncture for Sciatica Recommended to Everyone?
No, acupuncture is not recommended for everyone because of some medical constraints. Here are some situations when you can/ can’t opt for acupuncture for sciatica.
- If your age is between 18-70.
- Having symptoms of sciatica for one month or so; found to have unilateral radiating leg pain below the knee, positive straight-leg raise test, or at least one neurological deficit symptom (e.g., paraesthesia, muscle weakness, or abnormal reflexes).
- The VAS (Visual Analogue Scale) measures leg pain intensity for 40 mm or more.
- If you suffer from spinal diseases or progressive neurological symptoms.
- If sciatica is caused by other than lumbar disc herniation conditions.
- If you have had lumbar disc herniation surgery within the last 6 months.
- If you plan on having spinal surgery or other interventional therapies during the first 4 weeks of the trial.
- If you are continually taking antiepileptic medication, an antidepressant, opioids, or corticosteroids.
- In case you have cardiovascular, liver, kidney, or hematopoietic system diseases, mental health disorders, or cancer.
- Patients who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to become pregnant during the trial.
- If you have received acupuncture therapy within the past six months.
How much does an Acupuncture Treatment Cost?
Acupuncture can cost about $60 to $130 per session.
Talk to your healthcare provider about whether acupuncture is right for you before undergoing treatment.
You can find qualified and certified acupuncture through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) directory.
Getting the best results from acupuncture requires numerous sessions over time. You may need more sessions even if you feel relief in your first session.
How Long does it take for Acupuncture to Work on Sciatica?
Acute sciatica patients may find some relief within two or three acupuncture sessions. Whereas, chronic sciatica requires about eight to twelve sessions depending on the cause.
What are the Acupuncture Alternatives for Sciatica?
Apart from acupuncture, there are a bunch of other ways to treat lower back pain. Following are some best alternatives:
1. Improve your Lifestyle
Maintain a healthy, productive, and precautionary lifestyle in your daily routine. Don’t let this pain kill your life from minutes to second.
If you work long hours at work, I recommend that you buy an ergonomic chair that will help you sit comfortably.
2. Be Careful while Exercising
Staying in bed is not recommended when some productive exercises can help treat sciatica.
Stretching specific muscles like hip flexors or piriformis muscles can relax the sciatic nerve. You can opt for some low-impact exercises like walking, stretching, etc.
However, with sciatica there are certain exercises that are not allowed to do because of the unbearable amount of pressure these put on the nerves. Read more!
NOTE: It’s really important to consult with your doctor first.
An effective sciatica massage can relax your muscles, improve blood flow and encourage the healing process, resulting in pain relief. Learn how to massage sciatica trigger points?
4. Ice or Heat Therapy
Ice and heat therapy are the fastest ways to relieve pain. While ice can reduce inflammation, heat can boost healing by increasing blood flow and oxygen. LEARN MORE
Injections of steroids can reduce pain, making it easier to continue other treatments, such as exercise.
How many needles are used in acupuncture?
Your acupuncturist may use anywhere between 5 to 20 needles.
How large are the needles used for acupuncture?
The needles are hair-thin and may range between 0.12 mm to 0.35 mm.
Does acupuncture hurt?
No, in most cases, patients don’t feel pain.
What is better for sciatica acupuncture or chiropractor?
Acupuncture is more effective at treating sciatica nerve pain, while chiropractic care is effective at fixing the structural problem. Integrative therapies often produce immediate and long-term success by treating both the symptom and the cause. READ MORE
Acupuncture can relieve sciatica pain by inducing the release of endorphins (a neurotransmitter that can reduce the sensation of pain).
A study suggested that acupuncture is clinically effective with increased pain tolerance and reduced intensity of pain.
Don’t receive acupuncture from someone who isn’t qualified. Finding a professional qualified or certified acupuncturist would be best.
- Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain? An Ultimate Guide
- How Long Can Lower Back Pain Last?
- 10 Mistakes you are Making in Sciatica