The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and provides sensation to the outer leg and foot.
It originates in the lower back on either side of the spine, runs through the buttocks and into the hips before branching down each leg.
Sciatica is a syndrome involving impingement or inflammation of the sciatic nerve to such a degree that neurological symptoms appear. Commonly these symptoms include pain radiating down the back or sides of the leg, sometimes below the knee and into the ankle and foot. The location of the pain depends upon where the sciatic impingement originates. Sciatica is usually one-sided and is often preceded by lower back pain.
Commonly sciatic symptoms can occur due to a tight piriformis muscle.
This muscle is found beneath the gluteus maximus (ie deep in the buttock.)
Sciatica is often worse for sitting, driving, lifting. Some people find it worse for activities such as walking and running; others find these activities relieve it to an extent. I myself suffered with it after years of driving a long distance to work eventually caught up with me. Even now, a long car journey can start to aggravate the familiar symptoms.
Acupuncture has proven to be very effective for many people who suffer from sciatica.
Indeed, recent research uses MRI scans to reveal that acupuncture causes important pain relief related changes in brain activity.
The Acupuncture Evidence Project of 2010 found sciatica responded positively to acupuncture. This is certainly what I have found in my experience.
In acupuncture theory, pain is considered to due to “stuck” Qi/energy or Blood in the body.
We refer to this as Stagnation. It is the result of impeded circulation in the “channels,” which can have an emotional or a physical root. It leads to inflammation or degeneration. In the case of sciatica, the Gallbladder and/or Bladder channels are usually affected. These run down the back and sides of the back and legs, which is also the pathway of the Sciatic nerve.
Acupuncture for sciatica aims to restore the flow of Qi in the affected channels by identifying and releasing areas of tightness. Generally I palpate the area around the hips/glutes and find tender or tight areas. Acupuncture, often coupled with the use of relaxing heat can release these areas of tightness. I sometimes use a heatlamp or apply moxa directly to the needle.
Most of my sciatica clients have a noticeable improvement after 1 or 2 sessions.
This can vary depending upon how long the symptoms have been going on, how severe the symptoms are and what daily activities may be aggravating the symptoms. Generally 5-6 sessions clears up the main, if not all, symptoms.
I often advise frequent use of heat to help relax tight muscles. I usually recommend getting hold of a wheatbag and making it your new best friend! Hot baths with Epsoms Salts can also help.
Certain stretches are also very useful to try and release the muscles along the sciatic nerve pathway. This can help relieve the symptoms and also prevent them recurring. The stretches are often aimed at the little known piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve runs beneath this muscle in the buttocks and it can cause irritation of the nerve if it is tight or inflamed. It is best if these stretches are given by a physiotherapist or by a yoga/pilates instructor if you are unfamiliar with them.
Sciatica can also be caused by a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, pressure caused during pregnancy or other back problems. If the pain is extreme or lasts longer than a few weeks then always seek medical advice.