Acupuncture for sciatica

Acupuncture can offer a viable solution for the management of a number of conditions, including some which often don’t respond well to other modes of treatment. In these instances, acupuncture can provide a valuable tool to complement standard medical care, and in the treatment of sciatica, acupuncture has proven to be a useful practice.

What is sciatica?

Also known as sciatic neuritis, this condition is a painful result of aggravation to the sciatic nerve. This is a large nerve cell with five roots from the spinal cord, any of which can be irritated or compressed to trigger the condition.

Like all nerve cells, the sciatic nerve is an important part of a networking system that sends signals to and from the brain and spinal cord. This particular nerve is a large one with many branches into the muscles of the lower body. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back and down into the lower limb, passing through the buttocks on the way. It has the prestigious position of being the longest nerve cell in the body, and is absolutely essential to the healthy workings of our lower body.

As mentioned above, the condition sciatica is caused by any aggravation of the sciatic nerve or the branches running into this nerve from the spinal cord. The main symptom of the condition is pain, which can be experienced in virtually any part of the lower body because of the sciatic nerve’s important and prominent roles. The most common areas affected by sciatica are usually the buttocks and lower back however, and accompanying the pain so characteristic of the condition is often numbness, weakness in the lower body, a tingling sensation or pins and needles, and in some cases difficulty in motor control (moving the leg).

Interestingly enough the pain of sciatica is usually restricted to one side of the body, and is often aggravated by poor weather. Sciatica itself is a set of symptoms rather than an actual disease or injury, and in order for the condition to be resolved the actual underlying cause needs to be determined and then addressed.

The most common causes of sciatica involve compression of nerves in the spine. This can be caused by injury or damage to the bones making up the spine (backbone or vertebral column) that can cause a misalignment of vertebrae or spinal disc herniation (painful swelling and protrusion after injury to the soft tissue of the spine). 

Pregnancy is also a common cause of sciatica as it involves an increase in the amount of stress placed on the lower back. The additional weight of an unborn child, particularly in the third trimester where said child will put on most of his or her size and weight, can press on the large sciatic nerve. This poses no danger to the foetus and usually resolves after pregnancy. The only risk involved in pregnancy induced sciatica is that of falling or tripping because of numbness or weakness in the lower limb.

Treatment of sciatica, as mentioned briefly earlier in this article, will revolve around managing the symptoms and treating the underlying cause. Depending on the nature of the spinal injury causing sciatica, you may be provided with such treatments as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, physical therapy, or surgery. These will usually be offered alongside pain management therapies like analgesic medications.

How can acupuncture help treat sciatica?

While still subject to some debate, acupuncture has helped people across the world manage a variety of pain problems. The treatment itself involves the application of needles at specific points relevant to the part of the body that is unwell, and in doing so, relieving pain and restoring good health.

While still inconclusive, research into the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating and managing has proven promising, suggesting that acupuncture has a real and valuable application in the management of the disease. Further research into the effectiveness of the treatment is still needed before any conclusions can be reached, but for now, acupuncture may offer patients struggling to manage their sciatica an alternative therapy.

If you are interested in pursuing acupuncture then you should always talk to your doctor about the matter first, and ensure that you are still receiving the standard medical care advised by your doctor to resolve the condition.

To safely and reliably receive acupuncture care, the best thing to do is find a qualified and experienced acupuncturist registered with a professional body like the British Acupuncture Council. While acupuncture is not subject to statutory regulation here in the UK, there are voluntary organisations to which acupuncturists can apply for membership. Membership with these institutions means that a practitioner has to abide by certain codes of conduct and professional requirements, offering you peace of mind in your choice of service provider.

Your sessions with the acupuncturist will usually involve the provision of a medical history and a physical exam. These will allow the acupuncturist a chance to understand the nature of your problem, and to determine whether or not acupuncture can help you. If treatment is the right course of action for you, then your acupuncturist will apply extremely fine (and usually painless) needles to specific acupoints that target the sciatic nerve and spine to relieve the condition.

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