How Acupuncture for Sciatica Relieves Pain and Speeds Recovery
It’s no secret that acupuncture works for many pain conditions. Sciatic pain is a common complaint in my Scottsdale and Chandler offices. It’s a pain in the butt, literally and figuratively! It usually affects one side and often radiates down the side or back of the leg, sometimes to the foot and even up to the hip. When sciatica is flared up it can cause serious pain that’s worse with sitting, standing from a seated position and going up stairs. A flare up can also take weeks or months to resolve, even becoming chronic. My sciatic problem from a severe injury to my sacrum took almost a year to resolve. So I certainly know firsthand the frustration that comes along with sciatica pain and recovery. But I’m happy to say that with acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and exercise, it’s history!
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica, or lumbar radiculopathy as it is known medically, is pressure on the sciatic nerve that causes radiating pain, sometimes tingling sensations and even leg weakness. The sciatic nerve has five nerve roots that originate from lumbar vertebrae 4 (L4) and 5 (L5) and sacral vertebrae 1 (S1), 2 (S2) and 3 (S3), which merges in the buttocks to form the large sciatic nerve that runs down the back of each leg. The most common causes of sciatica are compression on the nerve root at one or more of the five origination points, typically L4, L5 and S1.
Many things can cause pressure on the nerve root, such as a herniated disk, disk degeneration, vertebral fractures causing the vertebrae to slip out of alignment (isthmic spondylolisthesis), and spinal stenosis, or the narrowing of the spinal canal from which the nerve roots emerge. Two other causes are technically not considered sciatica but behave exactly like sciatica. In piriformis syndrome, the piriformis muscle, which crosses over the sciatic nerve in the buttocks, becomes injured and inflamed, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. With sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction, irritation of the SI joint causes pressure on the L5 nerve root, which runs over that area.
What does Acupuncture for Sciatica Do to Help?
Acupuncture, particularly electrostimulation acupuncture, is often an excellent and highly successful treatment for sciatica. It does several things simultaneously: reduces pain and inflammation to take care of the immediate symptoms; it allows the piriformis muscle and those along the spinal columm to release and relax, avoiding further compression on the nerve; and it aids in regeneration of damaged nerve roots. The big plus, however, is that it’s very safe and has no short or long-term side effects. And the relief is fast. Patients either feel immediate pain relief or within just 48 hours. Of course, resolving the root problem can and often does take weeks, but you get the pain relief benefits right away without relying on pain medications.
However, acupuncture alone is not always the answer. I often recommend other therapies along with acupuncture for sciatica. Compression on the nerve root from structural misalignments or bone and disk degradation requires chiropractic adjustments. And physical therapy is important to strengthen core muscles and correct movement habits and ergonomics. I’m lucky to work with some excellent chiropractors and physical and stretch therapists who help my patients correct the root problem and remain pain-free.
It’s important to remember that it takes time to resolve nerve injury and to get your body working better. In some cases, more invasive treatments like surgery are the best answer. I always encourage patients to explore other options first, though, and with patience. Surgery and injections may sound like a quick and easy solution, but not all surgeries get the expected results and they do come with risks and potential side effects.
To explore acupuncture for sciatica or other nerve issues, schedule a consultation with me in either my Scottsdale or Chandler office. I look forward to helping relieve pain and getting your better, faster!