Sciatica is a painful condition that I see quite a lot in clinic. Sciatica is the pain or numbness experienced when the sciatic nerve that runs through your buttocks to your feet is irritated.
So what causes it?
There are a few different causes:
- A slipped disc. This is where the soft tissue between the bones of your spine protrude out and put pressure on the nerve. This is the most common cause.
- Spinal stenosis. This is a narrowing of the spine where the nerves run through.
- Spondylolysis. This is when one of the bones of your spine moves out of position.
- Back injury.
How does it affect you?
You are likely to have sciatica if you experience pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the area of the buttocks, legs, feet and toes. The pain can be sharp, burning and shooting. You may experience it at the back of the legs or down the side. You are likely to find moving, coughing and sneezing make the pain worse but also sitting for long periods such as being in long car journeys or sitting at a desk to work. You may also have back pain but that generally is not as bad as the sciatic pain.
When to visit A&E
You should go to hospital for emergency help if you experience the following symptoms:
- have sciatica on both sides
- have weakness or numbness in both legs that is severe or getting worse
- have numbness around or under your genitals, or around your anus
- find it hard to start passing urine, can’t pass urine or can’t control when you pass urine, unless this is normal for you
- don’t notice when you need to open your bowels or can’t control it, unless this is normal for you.
These symptoms can be signs of a more serious issue that needs prompt medical care.
How can acupuncture help and how to help yourself
Acupuncture helps by stimulating the body to release endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers and also by reducing inflammation. It helps with the blood flow to the lower back, getting thing moving and healing. It is advised to seek medical examination as well to find out if there is a mechanical cause that needs intervention but certainly acupuncture can run along side medical treatment to speed up recovery.
If you have sciatica, you can help yourself by:
- Gentle exercise
- Regular back stretches
- Using heat not ice on the painful areas (be careful not to use hot water bottles directly on your skin as you might not feel the burning if you have numbness)
- Carry on with normal activities as much as you can
To help prevent future episodes of sciatica:
- Avoid smoking – research suggests this increases your risk of sciatica
- Lift heavy items correctly
- Lose weight if overweight
- Watch your posture, keep a straight back and avoid slouching
- Stay active with regular exercise.
What can I expect if I chose to have acupuncture as a treatment for sciatica and back pain?
Typically, most clients need between 2-6 treatments to really get on top of the pain and some clients who have long term chronic pain will require a maintenance treatment every one to two months or so. I generally see clients once a week and if there is good improvement at or before the fourth session then we reduce the frequency of treatment. Clients in severe pain I try to see more frequently initially.
A testimonial from one of my clients
“I first visited Alison to treat extreme lower back pain and sciatica in both legs. She was very easy to talk to and took the time to listen. Having not slept for a few nights prior to my visit through pain, and unable to sit for any length of time I was at best hoping for a slight improvement.
I left the session feeling amazing – a majority of the pain was gone, I was able to sit without discomfort and able to sleep again. There were a few niggles but I have been visiting Alison weekly and these are disappearing one by one too.
Having suffered severe back pain for some 15 years and tried many approaches when things get bad – I cannot recommend Alison highly enough. She is amazing!” John.