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Does Acupuncture Work for Sciatica Nerve Pain?

Does Acupuncture Work for Sciatica Nerve Pain?


The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) recognizes acupuncture as an effective alternative treatment for sciatica.

More Info: The World Health Organization (W.H.O.), the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system has compiled a list of conditions that are effectively treated by acupuncture by reviewing all of the current clinical trials on the subject.  W.H.O. categorizes sciatica as a condition for which acupuncture has been proved through controlled trials to be an effective treatment.

[See Conditions Recommended for Acupuncture by the World Health Organization]


What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica condition in which a herniated disk from the spinal column presses down on the roots of your sciatic nerve. This can cause pain in the lower back or hip that radiates to the back of your thigh and into your leg.  It may also cause a sensation of numbness, burning, or a leg cramp. One in 50 people will experience a herniated disk.

Traditional Therapies for Sciatica Nerve Pain

Eighty-90% of cases of sciatica will heal on their own, usually within a few weeks. Pain management generally includes a few days bed rest to allow any inflammation to dissipate.  An over the counter anti-inflammatory is often recommended as well as heat and cold.

In other cases, your physician may recommend a cortisone injection into the affected area.

Surgical treatment may be required in those few cases that experience disabling leg pain for more than three months. [AAOS]

Possible Mechanisms of Action for Acupuncture and Sciatic

It is unclear the exact mechanisms of action leading to its benefits where sciatic pain is involved is unclear.  Reviewing a handful of random clinical trials points at a variety of possibilities.

One such theory is that acupuncture works as an analgesic by triggering serotonin and norepinephrine inhibiting pain transmission and that it further releases adrenocorticotropic hormones and beta-endorphins. [Medscape]

Another theory of the mechanism of action of acupuncture could be that, in addition to its influence on the pain inhibitory system, it participates in causing a transient change in sciatic nerve blood blow, including circulation to the cauda equine and nerve root. [PubMed]

Supporting Scientific Evidence

The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Researchers from Hunan TCM Professional Training College, Zhuzhou China, tested the effects of acupuncture for sciatica in 90 patients with clear success.  The researchers divided their participants into three groups, the first receiving warming acupuncture, the second receiving Nimesulide tablets, and the third receiving point-injections with Anisodamine.  According to the study results, the acupuncture group showed better therapeutic effects with significant differences in the change of pain threshold with the improvement of clinical symptoms and signs. [PubMed]

Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion.  Researchers from Acupuncture Center, Beijing TCM Hospital Affiliated to Capital Medical University, Beijing China tested the effects of acupuncture on 60 patients with success.  The total effectiveness rate was one hundred percent in both groups.  The goal of the research was to test whether proximal acupuncture was more effective than acupuncture alone.  [PubMed]


American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Rapson L; Geriatrics & Aging
Acupuncture for Pain Management
2008; Volume: 11; No: 2; pp: 93-97

Inoue M; Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Acupuncture Treatment for Low Back Pain and Lower Limb Symptoms—The Relation between Acupuncture or Electroacupuncture Stimulation and Sciatic Nerve Blood Flow
2008; Volume: 5; No: 2; pp: 133-143

Chan MR; Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine
The warming acupuncture for treatment of sciatica in 30 cases.
29.1 (2009): 50-53. Print.

Zhao Y; Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibuxion
[Randomized controlled study on proximal needling for sciatica]
2011; Volume: 31; No: 5; pp: 425-428

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