By Justine Myers, Lic. Ac.
Sciatica was the first health condition for which I sought treatment with acupuncture. I suffered sciatica related to piriformis syndrome, which manifested as glute and hamstring pain and stiffness. It would alternate sides from time to time, and I still experience bouts of it occasionally. I was in my early 20’s and a competitive runner, and running, particularly in colder weather, would set it off. Conventional treatments including heating pads, therapeutic ultrasound (often done with a portable ultrasound machine) and stretching provided only a little relief, but acupuncture helped me significantly.
As an intern in acupuncture school, I treated several patients for sciatica. In my last semester interning I started utilizing distal point treatments, which involves placing acupuncture needles at points away from the area of pain. One of my patients had been suffering from sciatic pain in his lower back and along his iliotibial (IT) band and had great results from the treatments I gave him. I could hardly believe it myself, but the proof was right there in front of me. He was effusively thankful for the relief he received from those treatments, and eventually “graduated” from being treated before I was finished with my internship because his pain had resolved completely.
Many patients come to our clinic seeking treatment of sciatica. There are several causes and manifestations of sciatica; here’s a helpful guide by WebMD to learn more (note: slide 21 mentions acupuncture as a treatment option for sciatica).
Acupuncture is typically an effective way to treat sciatica without drugs or side-effects. The number of treatments needed for sciatica to resolve depends on how long the sciatica has been occurring and how severe the pain is. Your acupuncturist can suggest a course of treatments once you’ve discussed your health condition(s) together. A typical course of treatments for sciatica would be 6 to 12 treatments, 1-3 times per week depending on the severity (1 for mild, 2 for moderate, 3 for severe; as the pain reduces, so does the frequency). More frequent treatments are recommended for getting relief more quickly, but when it’s hard to find the time for frequent treatments, once a week often suffices for slower but steady progress.
If you ever find yourself suffering from sciatica, remember that it is definitely worth giving acupuncture a try!