What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a painful condition which can really hold you back from doing the things you love in life.
Often accompanied by lower back pain, it can be felt as a shooting nerve pain, tightness, numbness and tingling down the sides and back of the legs. The pain and discomfort felt is often present throughout the day and night.
Pain can prevent walking, exercising or sitting comfortably. This can severely impact the quality of life and lead to severe depression, frustration and difficulty sleeping. (find out how acupuncture can help sciatica pain here).
Band-aid solutions include anti-depressants and strong pain-killers such as mobic or lyrica. Long-term use of these pain-killers can be harmful to your health.
Months or years of pain can leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. This may seem dramatic but I have seen it many times before in my clinic when people first book in to see me for their chronic pain. Sciatica is a sure sign that something in the body is not right. There are often two major causes of sciatica pain which can be confused, so it is important to know the difference.
Pain caused by nerve compression
True sciatica is actually caused by nerve compression in the lower lumbar spine and the pain ‘refers’ down the nerve pathway to the legs. This kind of pain is often felt as weakness, numbness, and nerve-like sensations. Stretching and massage offer a little relief, and the pain can be worse with bending or stretching. The only way to truly find relief is through treatment of the compressed nerve.
Pain from tightness in the legs
This is often referred to as a ‘false’ sciatica. Although still uncomfortable, false sciatica does not involve the spinal nerves and can be treated without needing to treat the lower back. This type is felt as a tightness, aching and soreness and is relieved with stretching, massage and strengthening exercises.
My top three treatments you can do now
In my clinical experience, I have had many clients see me for acupuncture for sciatica pain relief. There are a number of quality research studies that support the use of acupuncture as an effective tool in the management of back pain and sciatica pain. In one such study, it was found that the use of acupuncture may more effectively relieve leg pain/lumbago and improve global assessment of sciatica when compared with NSAID’s (ibuprofen, meloxicam, and diclofenac) treatment. This study also revealed that acupuncture may enhance the effectiveness of medications in leg pain/lumbago pain relief 1. In another study, it was found that acupuncture should be considered as an effective tool for helping to reduce sciatica pain 2.
What can make acupuncture a good option for treating sciatica? Acupuncture involves zero spinal and muscle manipulation, meaning there is minimal risk for further damage to already inflamed muscles and nerves from manipulative techniques. In addition, acupuncture may promote a healing response in the bodies tissues, promoting recovery from damage or inflammation. Because acupuncture is holistic, your therapist can also address other influencing factors such as your lower back pain, poor posture and even things like diet and lifestyle, to help you find the best solution.
2. Gentle supervised yoga
Yoga is a balanced exercise, combining stretching, strengthening, mindfulness, and breathing. Yoga can be wonderful for those suffering back and leg pain, it can help to relax tight muscles and strengthen muscles around problem spinal discs.
Yoga can alleviate pain over a few weeks if done correctly, providing not only muscular but other health benefits including increased relaxation and flexibility. A word of caution, ensure you work with an experienced yoga teacher, trained in helping sciatica and lower back pain sufferers, to avoid further risk of injury.
3. Remedial massage
Remedial massage can be wonderful at helping to relieve the pain and discomfort of sciatica. However, if the pain is caused by a disc problem this may only provide short-term relief. Massage can be useful however to get you moving through the week. A good remedial massage therapist will have experience with sciatica but not leave you feeling bruised and battered after your session.
If you are suffering from back and nerve pain, I hope this article has helped give you some hope and guidance. As with any form of health care please consult with your GP before you undertake any exercise regime, to avoid the risk of further damage.
If you would like to find out how acupuncture could help you, then one of our registered Chinese medicine doctors are always available for a chat over the phone or face to face. Take charge of your sciatica today, you don’t need to put up with it any longer.
- (Qin Z, Liu X, Wu J, Zhai Y, Liu Z. Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Treating Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:425108.)
- (Lewis RA, Williams NH, Sutton AJ, Burton K, Din NU, Matar HE, et al. Comparative clinical effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: a systematic review and network meta-analyses. Spine J. 2015 Jun