by Clark and Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have proven to be effective for many people who suffer from sciatica. This condition, which is characterized by nervy and gnawing pain that radiates from the low back down one or both legs, can be debilitating and frustrating. Many patients have tried conventional therapies such as pain medications, physical therapy, and chiropractic but still struggle with the condition.
In acupuncture theory, pain is believed to be due to stuck energy and blood in the body. It is always a result of impeded circulation, which can lead to inflammation or degeneration. In the case of sciatica, the gall bladder meridian is typically in need of energetic balancing. This meridian runs from the piriformus muscle in the buttocks down the lateral side of the legs, which is the pathway of the sciatic nerve. Qi stagnation (stuck energy) occurs in this meridian due to suppressed anger and stress. Because of this, a common dynamic amongst sciatica patients is that they tend to hold onto anger or express it inappropriately.
Acupuncture is a gentle treatment that is intended to be very relaxing, restorative and balancing. As the primary goal is to regulate the flow of Qi in the gall bladder meridian, one often notices that their entire sense of health is boosted from the treatment: physically, emotionally, and mentally. Most of our sciatic patients come for treatment 1-2 times per week for 4 weeks, at which time we assess for progress. The treatment plan depends upon the severity of the pain and how long it has been there.
Chinese herbal medicine can also play an important role in treating this condition. The following herbal formulas have all been proven to be useful in the treatment of sciatica:
du huo ji sheng tang: One of the main formulas for treating pain and spasm from the waist down
you gui wan: A kidney tonic formula that treats low back pain due to internal cold and deficiency
channel flow: A formula by Health Concerns that treats pain anywhere in the body
yao tong pian: One of the main formulas for all kinds of low back pain
Other people have found the following supplements to be helpful for sciatica:
bromelain: anti-inflammatory enzyme
fish oil: (3,000 mg daily)
5HTP: (a natural precursor to serotonin; many people with chronic pain are serotonin deficient)
There are also specific yoga postures that are helpful for both prevention and for active flare ups. These poses are best learned from a yoga instructor, as it is fairly easy to exacerbate this condition with stretching.
With the right combination of therapies, sciatica typically responds very well to treatment. We recommend combining acupuncture with Chinese herbs for a few weeks and possibly adding some targeted stretches. This should go a long way in your recovery from this painful condition.