There is substantial research to show that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and also at least as good, if not better than, standard medical care for back pain.
There is less specific research on acupuncture for sciatica, but there is evidence to suggest that it may provide some pain relief (Wang 2009, Chen 2009, Inoue 2008, Wang 2004).
Acupuncture can help relieve back pain and sciatica by:
Stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Zhao 2008).
Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors
(Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003).
Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling. causing a transient change in sciatic nerve blood flow, including circulation to the cauda equine and nerve root. This response is eliminated or attenuated by administration of atropine, indicating that it occurs mainly via cholinergic nerves (Inoue 2008). influencing the neurotrophic factor signalling system, which is important in neuropathic pain (Dong 2006).
Increasing levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, which can help reduce pain and speed nerve repair (Wang 2005).
Improving the conductive parameters of the sciatic nerve (Zhang 2005).
Promoting regeneration of the sciatic nerve (La 2005)
The sciatic nerve can literally be a huge pain in the butt. It is the largest nerve in the body, which consists of a large bundle of smaller nerves that begin in the lumbar spine, travel down the buttocks, and move through the leg. Technically, sciatica is not a disease, but a group of symptoms that affect the region of the sciatic nerve. Radiating pain is one of the more common and intense symptoms associated with sciatica. There can also be numbness and tingling starting in the lower back radiating down the leg.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica occurs when something pushes on the sciatic nerve. This can be a muscle spasm, the spinal discs, and sometimes even the spine itself. Most often this pain is due to muscle spasms or a slipped disc, but it can also be a sign of serious illness and it is important to go to you doctor for a diagnosis.
Spinal Disc herniation, often referred to as a slipped disc, is when a small portion of the spinal disc bulges out of the spinal column. This disc then pushes on the sciatic nerve causing pain. In some severe cases, spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal, can push on the nerve and cause pain. Another serious cause of sciatica is spinal tumors, which require immediate medical attention.
Muscle spasms are also a common cause of sciatica. Most often it is the piriformis muscle, but it can be other muscles in the lower back and pelvic region.
What is piriformis syndrome?
The sciatic nerve runs under or, in some people, through the piriformis muscle. This muscle is located in the pelvis. It is connected to the bottom of the spine and the top of the femur, or thighbones. If the piriformis muscle starts to spasm or becomes tight, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause the pain as well as the radiating symptoms. This persistent spasm of the piriformis muscle is called piriformis syndrome. It can be caused by an injury or sedentary lifestyles in people who don’t stretch or exercise. Particularly if you sit all day at a desk or computer, this can be a problem.