Sciatica typically affects just one side of the body. The pain can range from mild to severe and often extends from the lower back or buttocks, down the leg. Sciatic pain is often described as a numbness, weakness, tingling, or burning pain that worsens when sitting or standing. This pain is usually caused by an underlying condition of the lumbar area. While there are many standard treatment options available, many people have found success through all-natural treatments such as acupuncture for sciatica or spinal decompression. The latter treatment is recommended in serious cases when acupuncture fails to provide pain relief.
What Can Cause Sciatic Pain?
The sciatic nerve is found in the lumbar area and it runs through the length of the buttocks and down the backs of the legs. Portions of the nerve can branch out to different portions of the leg and can even go as far down as the toes. Pain in the sciatic nerve can occur when there’s a type of structural compression or impingement of the nerve. This happens where the lower back is injured, or it can even be a result of long-term degeneration. Often, people who gain weight rapidly will report sciatic pain. This is especially common in pregnant women. The location of the pain tends to vary from person to person, as does the exact type of pain or symptoms experienced. While one person will feel a tingling or tightness shoot down their leg, others will feel as though their leg is on fire.
Causes of Sciatic Pain
As we have mentioned, there are many causes of sciatic pain. Degenerative disc disease, pregnancy, and lumbar spinal stenosis are just a few. Spondylolisthesis is another common cause and it involves a fracture in the vertebrae that causes it to move and slide over another vertebra. Pregnancy can cause increased pressure on the lower back, compressing the sciatic nerve. A slipped disc, bulging disc or a pinched nerve are other common causes.
How Acupuncture Can Help with Sciatic Pain
The acupuncture needles are placed into specific sites on the body and work by triggering a response from the nervous system. The response from the nervous system causes the brain to increase blood flow to the painful areas, releasing enkephalins and endorphins, both of which are natural painkillers that work to relax the muscles in the surrounding areas.
While the most common treatments for severe cases of sciatic pain involve surgery that’s needed to repair underlying structural damage in the lower back, regular acupuncture treatments can help patients with mild to moderate cases of sciatic pain. Regular acupuncture treatment will provide a gentle, safe alternative for pain management. A large portion of patients with sciatica respond quite well to this treatment. While acupuncture treatment cannot heal any type of underlying cause that has irritated the sciatic nerve, it’s considered a safe, side-effect free pain management treatment.
In most cases, your physician will treat sciatic pain by placing several acupuncture needles along the forearm and wrist and the ankle and lower calf. Most doctors or acupuncturists will use a type of two-pronged approach. First, they’ll target the lower back in order to promote muscle relaxation and increase blood flow to the area. Next, they’ll target the nerve itself to influence blood flow regulation and muscle relaxation along the pathway of pain in the legs.
The acupuncture points used to treat sciatica can vary and will depend on the exact pathway and location of the pain.
Other Alternative Treatments for Sciatica Pain
Acupressure is closely related to acupuncture. This type of treatment is considered safe, non-invasive and a gentle form of pain management. However, this treatment option doesn’t use thin needles to unblock pathways. The acupressure practitioner will instead use their elbows, fingers, and thumbs to apply a certain amount of pressure to specific pressure points. This treatment also includes the application of consistent pressure to several points and rubbing different acupressure points in order to stimulate them. Acupuncture points and acupressure points are identical.
Biofeedback is a type of mind-body therapy that will teach patients how to control or change their habitual reaction to stress or pain. This type of treatment will usually require intensive patient participation and it won’t work for everyone. Many experts view this treatment as a type of controversial therapy because it has not been adequately researched. However, many patients have claimed to benefit from this treatment.
Biofeedback will include the use of special equipment that can provide feedback to a patient regarding their physiological reactions to certain types of stimuli including muscle tension, pain, and stress. By teaching the patient about the importance of exercises, visualization, deep breathing, and mental exercises, the patient will learn how to control their reaction to pain, such as the type of pain that’s experienced by patients diagnosed with sciatica.
Yoga is another popular alternative treatment option for sciatica. Studies have shown that regular yoga stretches can work to minimize pain in sciatica patients, especially when the sciatica is caused by piriformis syndrome. This syndrome involves the piriformis muscles that are located in the lumbar area. This muscle helps with hip rotation. Stretching these muscles gently can help to reduce pain. However, there are other yoga stretches that can worsen the pain or may not be effective at all. Poses including twisting and forward folds will exacerbate sciatica symptoms. Just like with any type of exercise, you must remember not to push your body too hard, especially when you’re trying it for the first time.
Will These Alternative Treatments Really Help with Sciatic Pain?
Often, most people are skeptical when acupuncture for sciatica is recommended. In fact, most people will immediately shy away from trying an alternative treatment as a form of pain management. Often, this is due to the fear of causing the pain to worsen, or even a certainty that the treatments won’t work at all. Some of these treatments can help you, but not all of them may work to reduce your sciatic pain. What works for one patient may not work for another. If you’re interested in trying acupuncture or acupressure, or any other type of alternative treatment to help manage your pain, meet with your primary doctor to discuss your options.