Sciatica is one of those conditions that most people don’t think about unless it happens to them or someone they know. If you have experienced sciatica, you know how debilitating it can be. For many, all they know about this condition is from a sunny pharmaceutical T.V. commercial featuring famous golfers.
How do you know if you are experiencing sciatica? Here’s a quick rundown from the Mayo Clinic “Pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg is the hallmark of sciatica. The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms.”
The pain from sciatica can interrupt sleep, cause cold sweats, and impede walking. Untreated, this condition can result in the need for surgery. Sciatica can also cause permanent nerve damage that results in loss of feeling or weakness in the affected leg – and can even cause permanent damage to bowel and bladder function.
How did you get sciatica? 90% of the time, it’s the result of a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. Other spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease or injuries to vertebrae can also cause sciatica.
Sciatica can be terrifying, you can feel paralyzed, the pain can be unbearable.
Recently I had a client who was in such pain from Sciatica, he was unable to walk. He had tried several different types of treatments including pharmaceutical medications, injections, and physical therapy – none of which were able to relieve the pain in any marked way. This day, the pain was excruciating, so he searched Google and found me. I went to his home as he was not able to tolerate the pain of getting up.
With acupuncture, he felt relief in a very short time. I went back the next day for a follow-up treatment, and he opened the door – something he was unable to do 24 hours prior! After two more treatments, he was fine.
How Acupuncture Treats Sciatica
More often than not, acupuncture is the treatment of last resort and the patient is in severe, acute pain.
In those instances, immediate pain relief is the focus. Acupuncture relieves the pain from sciatica by first releasing the body’s natural pain killers – endorphins that block pain mainly at the brain stem and enkephalins that block pain in the spinal cord. Acupuncture also reduces inflammation and relaxes muscles in and around the affected area.
Traditional Chinese Medicine explains how pain can arise as a blockage in the body’s Qi – energy, and how to treat pain by restoring balance to the Qi. Meridians in the body are paths of energy throughout the body. When tapped by a hair-thin needle, acupuncture points along the meridians signal the body to release pain-blocking endorphins. Acupuncture offers pain relief using the body’s own restorative capabilities.
Contrast this with western medicine’s common approach using pharmaceutical medications to address severe and chronic pain – narcotics, opioids, analgesics steroids, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, and even anti-seizure medications. Once the pain is under control, physical therapy is often prescribed. In extreme cases, surgery. For less severe cases, recommended remedies include over-the-counter pain relievers and the use of hot and cold therapy.
More often than not – treating sciatica involves a combination of acupuncture with active body movements like stretching, walking, and other exercises. Recognizing the condition, getting diagnosed early, and leveraging drug-free treatments is the best course to prevent sciatica from becoming a chronic, or an acutely painful experience.
Here’s a story from sciatica patient Dan as shared on Spine-health.com about his journey through several treatment options and what worked best for him.
Acupuncture and Stretching Helped My Sciatica: An Open Letter from a Spine-health Reader
By Allison Walsh (updated 7/17/2015)
Note from the writer: This is a story submitted by a member of our online community. We thought it might offer hope and treatment ideas to some of you who are suffering from low back pain and sciatica.
I remember the moment I first injured my back very clearly, even though it was 7 years ago. Though I was an active, healthy, 46-year-old man with no previous spine issues, I felt a sharp twinge of pain in my lower back as I lifted groceries out of the trunk of my car.
The pain was noticeable but bearable, so I just took some over-the-counter pain medicine and ignored it.
A few days later, I started to notice a mild tingling sensation in my right leg. I mentioned this to my friend, who is a physiotherapist, and she recommended I call my doctor right away.
I didn’t take her advice to call the doctor right away, and as I hit the 3-week mark after my original incident, the pain in my back grew worse, and the tingling in my leg was getting progressively more bothersome. Looking back, I wish I had gone to see my doctor sooner. Finally, I made an appointment with my doctor.
My doctor referred me to get an MRI, and I was consequently diagnosed with a herniated disc at the L4-L5 segment. I was happy to hear my doctor did not recommend surgery. He prescribed a course of NSAIDs and instructed me to start some gentle exercises.
Healing through physical therapy
After 6 weeks of taking my pain medication, I was still in quite a bit of pain, so my doctor recommended I see a physiotherapist (similar to a physical therapist in the United States).
My physiotherapist provided hands-on treatment and recommended stretches to do at home. The stretches I found particularly useful were the back extensions like these: Cat Stretch, Cow Stretch (not pictured).
Pain relief from acupuncture
I spent a lot of time extensively researching my condition. As a result of all this research, I was convinced I needed to try acupuncture. I figured that I may as well give as many potential therapies a try.
I booked an appointment at a local acupuncture clinic. The exercises were helping, but I was still in pain. It was rather daunting at first to enter a darkened room and allow a stranger to stick needles into me. But, my experience with acupuncture was very positive, and it provided almost instant relief. After 10 sessions, I was pain-free, and I credit a big part of my healing to it.
I continue to work on staying pain-free by doing my stretches and getting acupuncture as needed. I hope my story can give anyone searching for natural pain remedies hope.