Jana Brady, DACM, L.Ac., C. SMA
Licensed Acupuncturist, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Certified Sports Medicine
Sciatic pain is one of the most common pain issues we treat in the clinic. Around 40% of people will experience sciatica sometime in their lifetime. 1
Sciatic pain occurs when nerves originating in the lumbar spine become impinged, creating shooting, sore, burning or electric pain, numbness, tingling, even weakness along the nerve pathways. Symptoms might only be felt in the low back and hip, or may be felt all the way down the leg to the toes.
The most common cause of sciatic pain is an increase of pressure on the disc and nerve root from a bulging lumbar disc. A bulging disc can occur from an injury, repetitive motion, even prolonged sitting or a chronic cough. Other chronic conditions such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease can also result in increased pressure on the nerve. Sometimes, impingement of the nerve occurs because of tight muscles in the low back and hip. No matter the root cause of the sciatic nerve pain, there are many natural therapies that can help the patient avoid steroid injections or surgery.
Acupuncture: Based on the pathway of the painful sensations and confirmed with simple orthopedic exams, we can pinpoint whether the pain is originating from the lumbar spine or if the nerve is compressed in the muscles. Acupuncture is useful to decrease inflammation and improve circulation through the tissues. Acupuncture can be used to relax the deep paraspinal muscles which in turn takes pressure off the disc and nerve. 2 If it is a minor bulging of the disc, relaxing these muscles may be enough to resolve the issue. For larger/broad herniations, pain relief is the most acupuncture can offer, but following a series of treatments, pain relief can last for many weeks or months.
Cupping: Traditional fire-cupping involves using a flame to burn up oxygen inside a glass cup. A vacuum is created and the cup is placed on the skin of the low back, hips and sometimes the legs. The vacuum lifts and gently pulls apart the adhesion in connective tissues while increasing blood flow to muscles and tissues in the area of pain. It can have an instant effect of improving range of motion and decreasing pain. The cups feel like vacuum cleaners stuck to the skin and when used over healthy tissue they will leave pink suction circles which quickly disappear. When used over areas where blood is not adequately flowing, the cups will leave marks that are red, splotchy or bruised because the vacuum draws the stagnant blood to the surface of the skin while circulating fresh blood through the muscles.
Moxibustion and Herbal Prescriptions: If the patient is experiencing pains that increase during cold or damp weather, a moxa box may be used over the lumbar spine. When burned, Chinese Mugwort (Ai ye) produces infrared radiation which increases circulation of blood and oxygen through the tissues and warms the low back. 3
There are many internal herbal formulas that help increase circulation of blood and oxygen. Some herbs can help decrease inflammation and others relax muscles that are in spasm. There are also external patches, liniments or salves that can help decrease pain. Most of the time moxibustion and herbs are not necessary to treat sciatic pain, but may be beneficial in more complicated cases.
Qi Gong: This ancient form of movement therapy is similar to Tai Chi, but consists of simple repetitive movements instead of the flowing dance-like patterns of tai chi. There are specific movements that can be used to both stretch and strengthen the lumbar spine and the muscles of the low back, hips and legs. The stretches are especially beneficial as prevention. Once the acute pain is resolved, qi gong can become a daily routine to keep the low back and sciatic nerve healthy.
Whether you have been suffering from sciatica for many years or are experiencing it for the first time, give us a call at Steel Creek Acupuncture and Wellness, downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, to get on your path to the natural state of health. 479-301-2307 www.steelcreekacupuncture.com
- Sciatica: of all the nerve. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. February 2016. www.health.harvard.edu/pain/sciatica-of-all-the-nerve
- Callison, M. Sports Medicine Acupuncture Certification Course. Treatment of Low Back and Hip. 2015.
- How does moxibustion Possibly Work? Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2013. www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/198584/