Sciatica: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment Solutions
Back pain is something every person has suffered from at least once in their life. It can be more or less severe, depending on its causes and whether there’s nerve damage that might bring severe consequences to a person’s ability to move, sit, and perform everyday activities.
One of the most common back issues includes sciatica. It often arises due to the damage of the sciatica nerve, which extends from the lower back down the back of each leg, causing pain that may worsen over time.
Although sciatica pain may be quite severe, such a condition doesn’t usually require surgery. Instead, they can be successfully treated with adequate medications, functional correction exercises, steroid injections, dry needling, and acupuncture.
To see how each sciatica treatment helps alleviate the pain and improve other body functions, consider reading the following post that will provide you with more information about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its positive effects on treating different conditions.
Makari Wellness: Holistic Approach in Treating Sciatica Symptoms
As a certified acupuncturist, Mike Woodworth from Makari Wellness knows how important it is not to focus on the affected body area (sciatic nerve) only but to treat the root of the condition. Therefore, he believes in the power of integrative medicine that has a positive impact on a person’s health, mind, spirit, and emotions.
Feel free to contact us at (888) 871-8889 and book your appointment at the clinic that provides the best therapies of acupuncture for sciatica pain.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is described as pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which extends from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. This condition typically affects only one side of your body, causing numbness, weakness, and pain.
It’s usually resolved within a few weeks, thanks to self-care measures. Still, if the symptoms remain even after some time, you may need to visit your doctor and do the necessary exams.
Which are the Most Common Sciatica Symptoms?
The sign that often indicates the onset of sciatica is a sudden pain alongside the lumbar (lower) spine and down the back of your leg. As mentioned in the previous section, you’ll notice that only one body side is being affected.
Patients usually describe the sciatica pain as mild, sharp, or burning, which means that it may vary widely. It may get worse when you cough or sneeze, as well as when you sit for a prolonged period of time.
Here are the most common symptoms of sciatica:
- Lower back pain that aggravates over time
- A pain in the rear or leg that becomes worse when sitting
- Pain in the hips
- Burning or tingling sensation down the leg
- Weakness, numbness, or difficulty while trying to move the leg or foot
- A consistent pain on one side of the rear
- A shooting pain that prevents you from standing up smoothly.
If you neglect the symptoms mentioned above, they may lead to further complications that include the pain that extends to the foot or toes. Also, if you notice any changes in bladder or bowel control, seek immediate medical help.
What are Typical Sciatica Causes?
The most prominent factor that causes sciatica is a herniated disk in your spine that pinches the sciatic nerve. Although rare, cases such as overgrown bone on your vertebrae, tumor, or diabetes can compress the nerve and impact the progression of sciatica.
Some risk factors that may trigger the nerve damage include:
- Age: Herniated disks and bone spurs are common age-related issues, which can be responsible for the onset of sciatica.
- Obesity: Overweight increases the stress on your spine, making critical spinal changes that trigger sciatica.
- Job type: If your job includes a lot of sitting, carrying heavy loads, or driving a motor vehicle for long periods, you are at risk of developing this particular disease. However, it’s rarely the only reason for the nerve damage.
- Lack of exercise: Prolonged sitting and inactivity may significantly increase the risk of sciatica.
- Diabetes: As mentioned, diabetes is an underlying condition that often affects the nerve damage that may lead to different complications. Namely, diabetes affects the way the body uses blood sugar, which is why nerves become more sensitive and more prone to changes.
You should know that sciatica often comes as a result of underlying conditions that affect the spine. Such conditions may include muscle spasm, lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and more.
Therefore, adequate sciatica treatment should be composed of different approaches aimed at healing the entire body, including the underlying condition that triggered the sciatica nerve damage.
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How to Treat Sciatica Symptoms?
Before you start with any treatment, you need to visit your doctor and do the necessary exams that will confirm that you have sciatica.
A diagnosis can be determined during a physical exam, where your doctor can check your muscle strength and reflexes. Namely, you can be asked to walk on your toes or heels, rise from a squatting position, and more. Pain caused by sciatica typically worsens during these activities.
In case of a severe pain that lasts more than a few weeks, your doctor may order imaging tests to determine whether you have herniated disks or bone spurs. Such tests usually involve X-ray, MRI, CT scan, and electromyography (EMG).
Apart from typical therapies suggested by your doctor, such as medications, injections, or physical therapy, you may also be advised to try acupuncture or dry needling – the most common approaches that originate from the TCM.
They both have proven to be quite efficient in treating different types of pain, no matter if it comes as a result of an injury or nerve damage. Both treatments are safe and bring no side effects.
Acupuncture for Sciatica
A typical acupuncture therapy includes the insertion of small, thin, and stainless steel needles into specific acupoints found all over the body. By triggering such points, our body releases the energy and impacts the blood flow, critical for overall health.
Although it’s efficient for treating different conditions, including the degenerative ones, acupuncture is still the best for alleviating the pain caused by various factors. It’s particularly convenient for treating the symptoms of sciatica, and it has demonstrated to be effective, safe, and very well-tolerated.
The exact amount of treatments will depend on a patient’s overall health and the severity of their condition. Still, recent researches have shown that even 80% of patients with sciatica have responded positively to the therapy, which means that they have noticed significant improvements and restoration of normal functions.
The most efficient sciatica pain treatment involves two acupuncture methods. Method one is based on inserting 1-2 needles in the gluteal area, while method 2 includes the insertion of several needles at various body points along with 1-2 needles in the gluteal region.
According to certified practitioners, both approaches are safe and efficient. Still, they find the first one better at providing more relief.
The Combination of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for Sciatica
Acupuncture alone can significantly help mitigate the symptoms of sciatica, but its combination with various Chinese herbs may provide even better and more permanent results.
Acupuncturists will prepare an adequate herbal formula based on a patient’s condition, which will be determined by analyzing the patient’s symptoms, measuring their pulse, and observing the tongue.
Combined with acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy has shown even a 95% total effective rate, which is significantly higher than the results provided by using acupuncture as a standalone therapy. Namely, patients have felt reduced pain, functionality increase, and reductions in inflammatory responses caused by sciatica.
Dry Needling for Sciatica
Another therapy that has proven its efficiency in treating sciatica pain is dry needling. Unlike sciatica acupuncture, which is based on Chinese philosophy, dry needling rests on the ideas of Western medicine. Still, it needs to be performed by a certified practitioner in order to be entirely safe and productive.
Needles used for this therapy are similar to those used for acupuncture, and they are inserted into a trigger point (knot). The primary goal of dry needling is to deactivate the trigger point, which causes pain and lack of motion and functions when it’s active.
Dry needling alone is useful for pain relief, but it’s more efficient when combined with other therapies aimed at treating low back pain. However, the number of sessions and final results of the entire procedure will depend on a patient’s overall health and the severity of their condition.
Acupressure: The Best Form of Sciatica Massage
The entire concept of acupuncture is based on releasing the energy, which flows through the meridians found all over the body. Passive energy is the one that often causes pain in different body areas, which is why acupuncture tends to free it and make it active again.
To make that happen, acupuncturists stimulate the points found on the meridians, alleviating the pain. Such points can be stimulated with needles, which is the case with acupuncture, and with massage, which is where acupressure kicks in.
Acupressure includes the massage of acupuncture points for sciatica gently and without causing additional pain to a damaged area. The points that are commonly stimulated for treating sciatica pain are:
- Urinary Bladder 23 (UB23): It’s located in the middle of the waist, between the rib cage and the hip bone. It’s a critical acupressure point, whose stimulation can reduce muscle tension and lower back pain. It’s usually pressured for at least 60 to 90 seconds.
- Gallbladder 30 (GB30): It’s located on a tender spot on the buttocks, one-third of the way from the top of the highest point of your butt crease to the hip point. It’s vital for releasing the tension you feel on the lower back, hips, and legs. Its stimulation can also boost overall circulation.
- Urinary Bladder 40 (UB40): Also known as “Middle Crook,” this potent acupoint is located right in the middle of the crease in the back of your knee. Practitioners find it crucial for treating all the major pain sensations along the spine, including those provoked by sciatica. It’s also useful for treating muscle spasms, knee stiffness, and leg pain.
- Urinary Bladder 62 (UB62): It’s found under the lateral or outside ankle bone, and it’s often stimulated on both feet. Its stimulation helps release the lumbar tension and alleviate the anxiety caused by acute back pain.
Active Release Techniques (ART) and Functional Correction Exercises
Active Release Techniques (ART) are a combination of therapies aimed at treating pain and injuries of muscles, ligaments, fasciae, tendons, and nerves. Unlike typical massages, ART involves certain tension and depth, which is critical for restoring muscular function and alleviating the pain.
Functional Correction Exercises are critical for helping patients get rid of pain, improve mobility, and retrieve full motor control. Your practitioner will identify any source of dysfunction that blocks your movement and utilize different tools to address the problem.
Both approaches bring better results when combined with other therapies, including dry needling, electroacupuncture, and moxibustion.
Conclusion: Can Acupuncture Help Sciatica?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, treating different conditions is not about focusing on the affected organ only. Therefore, therapies that originate from the TCM are often aimed at addressing the root of a particular disease, which includes healing the underlying condition that may be causing inconveniences to a person’s overall health.
Therefore, we can say that acupuncture and TCM, in general, are a form of holistic healing, which is about strengthening the entire organism and boosting the mechanisms and energy of the body. Apart from healing pain caused by sciatica, acupuncture has a positive impact on a person’s emotions and lifestyle, which reflects in its power to make people make better choices and get rid of bad habits.
How to Prevent Sciatica?
Sciatica can’t always be prevented, but if you take care of your back and protect it from potential inconveniences, you can eliminate the risks of nerve damage. That said, consider some of the following tips that play a significant role in back protection:
- Exercise: Regular workout keeps your back strong, especially when you pay attention to the muscles in your abdomen and lower back. You can always ask your doctor or trainer to recommend specific activities essential for proper posture and alignment.
- Maintain correct posture while sitting: People that develop back conditions often sit improperly. Therefore, it’s critical to find a seat with adequate lower back support and armrests and make sure you keep your knees and hips level.
- Be careful when lifting heavy loads: When lifting something heavy, you should let your lower extremities do the work, keep your back straight and bend only at the knees, and find even a lifting partner if the object is too heavy.