What Is Sciatica or Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatica, which starts in the buttock or gluteal region of the body, is a kind of nerve pain brought on by irritation or damage to the sciatic nerve. Did you know that the sciatic nerve is the body’s longest and thickest nerve and measures almost a finger’s breadth in width? This main nerve is composed of five nerve roots: three from the sacrum, two from the lumbar spine, and the right and left sciatic nerves are created when those five nerve roots combine. One sciatic nerve per side of your body travels through the hip, buttock, and leg, ending just below the knee. Following this, the sciatic nerve splits off into additional nerves that go down your leg and into your foot and toes. So, you can see how this would explain how the radiating pattern of pain that you feel can travel down to one of your toes or stop at the back of your knee! It often presents as a burning, numbness, tingling, electric, stabbing, or deep ache sensation and usually only affects one leg, but it can occur in both.
What Causes Sciatic Pain and Low Back Pain?
Often, patients may not realize that their sciatica is actually stemming from their low back, and the most common cause of sciatic pain is the result of a herniated or slipped disc originating from the lumbar region that is causing inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve. This can be the result of an old nagging back injury, from just “living life” and having a component of spinal degeneration, weak abdominal muscles, arthritis, osteoporosis, and even bad posture plays a part. Additionally, Piriformis Syndrome is a condition that can also put pressure on our sciatic nerve from this muscle being too tight or from spasms.
What Are the Treatment Options for Sciatic Pain and Low Back Pain?
In general, sciatic pain is treated with painkillers such as Naproxen, over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or Advil, and corticosteroid injections. And depending on your physician, other tests may be ordered such as an x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a computed tomography scan (CT), or send you for further testing by a Neurologist to determine nerve conduction.
In some very severe cases, surgery may also be discussed as an option to decompress the sciatic nerve, but this is a rare treatment option due to the elongated healing time and will not be done unless there is physical evidence shown in imaging. And remember, once surgery has been done and has altered the physical state, it cannot be reversed.
And, low back pain and sciatica are more common than you would think. In Canada, four out of five adults will experience back pain at some point in their life, and 85-90% of these patients will not have any apparent cause that can be identified with imaging and other testing.
And, while medications can be the first line of defense against pain, this also comes with other risk factors and side effects. One needs to be thoughtful about how our liver and kidney function will be affected by these medications in the long term. So, what are some alternative options that will help you with your sciatic pain?
How Acupuncture Provides Sciatic Pain and Low Back Pain Relief
Under the care of a highly trained, licensed Acupuncturist, acupuncture can be extremely effective. Did you know that acupuncture is recognized as a main treatment option for lower back pain according to the World Health Organization (WHO)? Research in acupuncture has proven through numerous clinical trials that acupuncture is an effective modality in the treatment of low back pain amongst treating many other symptoms of disease processes that we can discuss at a later date.
Tiny filament needles are placed in strategic acupuncture points to alleviate the pain and inflammation. This gentle approach works by essentially introducing small microtraumas to the area in which the brain recognizes and sends extra blood flow and nutrients to the area. This in turn decreases inflammation by releasing certain chemicals in the brain consisting of endorphins which are natural painkillers that mimic opioids, increases electromagnetic impulses to speed up the healing process, and relaxes the sympathetic nervous system so that our body tension doesn’t increase our pain perception.
Acupuncture points will be based on both local and distal areas depending on the severity of your condition and will follow the Gallbladder and Bladder meridians in traditional Chinese medicine. The fine filament needles are also coated in order to slide past muscle fibers and vessels versus a hypodermic needle which is designed to tear through body tissues. This enables the Acupuncturist to apply the needles where necessary to relieve your spinal pain. Your pain relief sessions won’t just end there though. There are other modalities that may be used in addition to acupuncture such as electrical stimulation, cupping, nutrition, herbs, and massage techniques that are tailored to your specific needs.
Your Acupuncturist will also recommend specific stretches and gentle exercises to help rehabilitate your body and restore proper function to your back. These therapeutic movements will be based on where the root cause of your pain originates and help accelerate your recovery and healing phase.
Most importantly, back pain that is treated with acupuncture comes with little to no side effects to your digestive tract or to other organs that would usually be taxed with processing synthetic painkillers.
Why Should I Choose Acupuncture to Treat my Sciatica and Low Back Pain?
With acupuncture having so few side effects, why not choose acupuncture as a treatment for your back pain, and why wait to see how long your pain will last before seeking help? Choose a licensed Acupuncturist that specializes in pain management, who is familiar with using integrative medicine, and who doesn’t just rely on dry needling or trigger point therapy. Here are just a few of the reasons why you should choose acupuncture to treat your sciatic and lower back pain:
- Pain relief without side effects
- Decreased inflammation
- Increased range of motion
- Increased blood circulation
- Faster rehabilitation
- Improves your sleep due to decreased pain
- Decreases the body’s stress response
- Reduces the need for medications or surgery
Are There Contraindications for Using Acupuncture for Sciatic and Back pain?
Can acupuncture make sciatica worse? Although acupuncture is considered a safe treatment, there are a few things for you and your Acupuncturist to consider before choosing acupuncture to treat your low back pain and sciatica. If there is a chance of pregnancy, please be sure to communicate this with your practitioner, as low back acupuncture points (and others) are not to be done during pregnancy as they may induce contractions. And while not contraindicated, one should also exercise caution if you have a pacemaker, a bleeding disorder, an active infection in the area to be treated, or a seizure disorder. When choosing your Acupuncturist, also do your research into the practitioner’s licensing, qualifications, and experience.
What Are the Next Steps to Trying Acupuncture to Treat My Back Pain?
Your first appointment on your pain relief journey will be an hour and a half long so that your practitioner can get to know you better and decipher where the origin of your pain is located. Most patients will have some degree of pain relief immediately after their first session, and it may take four to six follow-up treatment sessions (one hour long) for chronic back pain relief. Besides receiving acupuncture for lower back pain, you will also receive other tools for success in your rehabilitation such as massage and nutritional advice to quicken your recovery.
By using acupuncture as a back pain remedy or for sciatic nerve pain treatment, you can start to enjoy those little things that we all take for granted such as putting on your socks, sleeping well, and enjoying family activities again. Being pain-free will allow you to get back to skiing down a mountain, lifting weights in the gym, or just have the ability to go for a walk outside without any more pain. So, let’s start getting your ‘back’ back on track now! Click here to speak with an Edmonton Acupuncturist today who can tailor your acupuncture treatments to your specific needs to get rid of the pain associated with your spine.