Talk about a pain in the butt! In all seriousness, sciatica can be an extremely debilitating condition. At Source Empowered Wellness, we treat many people with sciatica successfully using acupuncture and sometimes other adjunctive treatments like cupping, moxa, and infrared heat lamp. Depending on the severity and length of time with the sciatic symptoms, one can get substantial resolution from acupuncture within 2-6 treatments. Once we determine the root cause of the sciatica, we will also address that root cause which may be a bulging disc, disc dehydration, or postural/ movement associated.
The major symptom of sciatica is pain, commonly one-sided, that follows the path of the sciatic nerve – described as a sharp, “nerve-like”, pain that radiates down the leg. It can also include numbness, and weakness in areas including the lower back, buttocks, the back of the leg and sometimes it travels down to the toes. Some people experience sciatic pain regardless of their activity and some report more intermittent pain when sitting or standing. The little known fact with sciatica is that there are two related conditions often confused with sciatica: Piriformis Syndrome and Pseudo Sciatica. Though these conditions have similar symptoms, they each have a separate root cause. Sciatica occurs when the Sciatic nerve is compressed when exiting the spinal column. This often occurs when there is a lower back disc bulging and impinging the nerve, usually at L4-L5 (lumbar spine), or it may be due to a vertebral misalignment. Piriformis Syndrome is more specifically due to tightness of the piriformis muscle found deep in the buttocks, which wraps around the sciatic nerve and causes pain. Lastly, Pseudo Sciatica, which is the least common of the three, is caused by a trigger point firing in the Gluteus Minimus Muscle on the side of the hip.
Why do we get sciatica?
Did you know the sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in your body? It consists of 5 pairs of nerve roots that can be as large around as your middle finger, making it an easy target to be irritated when your body is compressed, tightened, and misaligned. Even stress, which can dehydrate your discs and can spinal stenosis can lead to sciatica issues.
Acupuncture Treatment for Sciatica
The WHO (World Health Organization) lists Acupuncture, which is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as an effective treatment for sciatic pain. Acupuncture is a holistic medicine with a history of more than 2,000 years for treating a wide range of disorders with its strength in treating pain. The acupuncturist will do a diagnostic assessment with you to implement a treatment plan for you and will address the symptoms as well as the root cause of the sciatica. If there are no changes in your symptoms after 6 treatments, Source Empowered Wellness recommends you get an Xray and/or MRI to confirm any structural impingements like bone spurs which may require other methods of treatment to resolve the issue. Source Empowered Wellness also recommends stretches and yoga to prevent reoccurrence of the sciatica symptoms and to lower dehydrating salty foods and drinks like coffee which in turn dehydrate the discs which lessen the space in your spine for your nerve roots to remain unhindered from the spine.
In TCM terms, we will evaluate your constitution to holistically follow up with treating the root cause. There are various “patterns” associated with sciatica that are expressed by organ disharmonies:
Kidney Qi or Yang Vacuity: If your back feels very weak and it does not feel better with a lot of rest, the underlying imbalance may be kidney qi vacuity. Other symptoms include weakness of the knees, extreme fatigue, ringing in the ears, dizziness, and a weak pulse. You may feel cold even when it’s warm outside.
Spleen Qi Vacuity with Dampness: For those with spleen qi vacuity with dampness, you will also have fatigue and weakness, but the back feels better with rest. Your body and head may feel very heavy and foggy and you may have poor digestion, especially gas and bloating.
Liver Qi stagnation: Liver qi stagnation causes your muscles to be very tight and in spasm especially when you become angry or frustrated. Also, you may suffer from frequent headaches and, in women, painful menses.
About the Author:
Simone Ressner, L.Ac., is a California State Licensed Acupuncturist helping people with pain and illness. He practices in San Diego. You can find out more at www.SEWacu.com or by calling 669.444.0739.