Best Acupuncture for Sciatica

Acupuncture for Sciatica – What You Need To Know

Best Acupuncture for Sciatica blog post
            Sciatica pain treated with acupuncture is becoming more and more of a mainstream treatment option, and a successful one at that. Considering the annual incidence of sciatica was anywhere from 1% – 5%, and a lifetime incidence of 10% – 40%, it is no surprise that many are seeking efficient treatment options. These are decently high numbers, and even more alarming that many people with back pain often have undiagnosed sciatica as well. Patients are turning to acupuncture now more than ever because there is no definitive western medicine treatment for it, and these treatments only mask symptoms utilizing pain medications with not-so-favorable side effects.

Sciatica Fundamentals

            Sciatica, in layman’s terms, is pain that usually begins in the lower lumbar spine, and shooting down the leg. This happens from the sciatic nerve becoming inflamed or becoming compressed on various levels within in the spine. It can affect one or both sides of the body, although one side is more common. The reason it is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed is because many patients come presenting with just low back pain, but there are many other symptoms that can indicate sciatica and vary from person to person.

Symptoms of Sciatic Pain:

  • Pain traveling down the calf into the foot

  • Numbness and tingling or burning sensation

  • Electric-like pain in the leg with movement, after sneezing/coughing, walking, holding their breath, or at night

  • Neurological symptoms like sensory disturbance, and reflex or gait dysfunction.

Causes of Sciatic Pain:

  • Most commonly from a bulging or herniated disc. – this decreases the cushioning between the vertebrae which in-turn causes nerve compression and pain.

  • Vertebrae fracture – misalignment in the spine can compress the nerve due to it being out of place.

  • Piriformis syndrome – or tight muscles in general as the muscles that are around the sciatic nerve put pressure on the nerve when muscles are tight. Additionally, driving or sitting for too long can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve as well.
Another reason sciatica can be tricky to diagnose is because there is also something known as pseudo sciatica and this is simply due to tight muscles pressing on the sciatic nerve. This pressure can imitate sciatic pain, and is often times caused by piriformis syndrome as both the piriformis muscle and gluteus minimus muscle are located close to the sciatic nerve mimicking sciatica or what is known as referral pain.
As with many western medical conditions, sciatica is often treated in such a way as just to mitigate the pain usually with over the counter pain reducers or even steroid injections. Acupuncture is a way for those suffering with sciatic pain to receive individualized treatment that will get to the root cause for long term healing rather than mask the pain day to day.

Acupuncture for Sciatica

            Acupuncture in its purest definition works by stimulating the nerves and increasing blood flow to the joints and muscles. Being that the nerves are stimulated during treatment, acupuncture seems like the best and most logical choice to treat sciatic pain.

Acupuncture Works for Sciatica By:

  • Since acupuncture stimulates the nerves, this allows for the nerves to cease sending pain signals to the brain to cause analgesia.

  • Triggering endorphin release for the body’s natural pain killing abilities.

  • Regulating the nervous system to decrease pain, stress, and tension.

  • Increased blood flow nourishing the irritated or damaged nerves to increase healing.

  • Relaxing the muscles and decreasing pressure on the nerves.

  • Decreasing inflammation
Although as acupuncture providers we can usually point out a commonality in sciatica patients, there are multiple TCM patterns that can be at play in each patient as always treating the cause not the symptom.

Common TCM Diagnoses for Sciatic Pain:

  • Kidney Qi Deficiency – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included tinnitus, weak/tight pulse, dizziness, fatigue, and pale tongue.

  • Liver/Gallbladder Damp Heat – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included slippery/wiry/rapid pulse, red tongue with a yellow sticky coat, nausea, poor appetite, and dark urine.

  • Kidney Yang Deficiency – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included a slow and deep pulse, a swollen/pale/wet tongue with a possibly white coat, frequent urination, impotence, irregular menstruation, sore joints/muscles, and cold extremities.

  • Liver Blood Deficiency – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included a choppy/thin pulse, a pale/thin/dry tongue, spasms, numb limbs, muscle cramps, weakness in the limbs, and joint pain.

  • Liver Wind – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included a rapid/full/wiry pulse, a red tongue with a stiff/thick yellow coat, tremors in the extremities, tinnitus, vertigo, pale face, malnourished nails, and dizziness.

  • Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included fatigue, weakness, poor digestion, heavy feeling in the body, empty/thin/slippery pulse, and pale/swollen tongue with teeth marks and a greasy white coat.

  • Liver Qi Stagnation – symptoms synonymous with this diagnosis included headaches, painful menses, spasms, bloating, digestive issues, wiry pulse.
As far as acupuncture points, there are any number of local and distal points that are beneficial for sciatica.

Acupuncture Points for Sciatica:

  • BL25

  • BL40

  • BL23

  • BL36

  • GB30

  • GB34

  • GB33
There is also favorable research in favor of acupuncture for sciatica. As the years go on, acupuncture treatment is becoming more of a viable and reasonable option for patients and referring providers alike. Positive and more high-quality research in this arena is also helpful, and is has been very supportive of acupuncture for sciatica in the last decade.

Acupuncture Research for Sciatica:

  • The Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture Treatment on Sciatica, 2022:

    • The objective of this study was to determine acupuncture treatment efficiency, durability, and safety in the treatment of sciatica.

    • Results involved 2,707 patients in 28 randomized controlled trials in which the acupuncture group effective rate showed to be “significantly higher” than in the analgesic group. Additionally, the acupuncture group showed to have better results in the pain threshold scores as well.

    • This study concluded acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment for sciatica patients.

  • The Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture Therapy for Sciatica, 2023:

    • The goal of this review was to assess clinical evidence of the efficiency and safety of acupuncture for sciatica.

    • Through extensive literary review, 30 randomized controlled trials were included involving 2,662 patients. These trials showed acupuncture to be superior to medical treatment in improving the total effective rate.

    • This study concluded that acupuncture treatment is both effective and safe for patients with sciatica, and additionally is a “suitable replacement for medicine treatment.”
Although acupuncture cannot cure sciatica, neither can conventional medical intervention. There is a growing body of evidence for the efficacy of acupuncture treatment for sciatica to relieve symptoms both in the short and long term. It is a safe and effective modality for patients to relieve their sciatic pain.