Learning about acupuncture, can help you decide if acupuncture for sciatica is a viable option for you. Sciatica is a common problem that can often be very difficult to diagnose and treat. Understanding the causes of sciatica, and knowing which treatments are available can help you decide what is best for you.
Placing acupuncture needles to relieve pain
"Symptoms can vary..."
Sciatica is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, or by irritation of the nerve roots that combine to form the sciatic nerve.
Symptoms can vary and are often described as a pain, numbness, or a needles and pins sensation, ranging in intensity from only annoying to very severe and incapacitating.
Discomfort can be felt anywhere along the course of the nerve, from the posterior pelvis into the buttock and thigh, and even into the lower leg and foot.
The areas affected depend on exactly where the nerve or nerves are being irritated. The evaluation of your sciatica will revolve around identifying exactly where the nerves are being compressed.
"involved in the decisions regarding your care"
Understanding sciatica and the treatment options makes you better equipped to be involved in the decisions regarding your care. If your doctor determines that pressure on a nerve is causing your sciatica, he may recommend surgery to relieve the pressure.
If you are not interested in having surgery, or if you are unable to have surgery because of other medical problems, learning about acupuncture gives you other alternatives.
In many cases a well-defined diagnosis of what is causing the sciatica is unavailable, and a definitive treatment plan cannot be determined.
When your doctor is unable to determine an exact cause or a reason for your sciatica, he must use his experience and judgment to begin a conservative course of treatment, and acupuncture would be a reasonable option.
"How acupuncture works is not well understood"
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, which has been in use for thousands of years. It involves the use of very fine needles to stimulate specific points on the body. Pressure, heat, and electricity are also sometimes used in the treatments.
Acupressure is a similar treatment without needles. There are many different disciplines and the exact techniques will vary from one practitioner to the next.
How acupuncture works is not well understood in terms of the western understanding of human anatomy and physiology, and studies show inconsistent results regarding the effectiveness of treatments. More detailed information on acupuncture can be found at my page on Acupuncture for Back Pain.
"critics and proponents seem to agree"
The one thing that the critics and proponents seem to agree on, and the studies appear to confirm, is that there is very little risk when using acupuncture for sciatica, and in certain groups of people it can be very effective.
Another consideration would be cost. Although acupuncture for sciatica should not be terribly expensive, neither is it a cure or permanent. In most cases it needs to be repeated on a regular basis, and insurance may or may not cover the cost of treatments.
In conclusion, it seems that if the cause of your sciatica is unclear, or if you are not interested in surgery or other treatment options to treat your sciatica, a trial of acupuncture for sciatica would seem a reasonable option with very little downside.