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How do you know if you have sciatica?

People with sciatica often experience pain in the buttock and leg, sometimes all the way down to the foot.  This pain can run down the back of the leg, or on the side of the leg.  Some people also have numbness  and/or tingling in their lower back and buttocks, feet and toes.  Sciatica symptoms may also include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, difficulty getting up from a seated position, and walking.  Symptoms can last for just a few weeks or many years.  Everyone experiences sciatica symptoms differently, depending on what causes sciatica for them.

The usual treatment for sciatica includes physiotherapy, painkillers and anti-Inflammatories, anti-depressants, steroid injections and surgery.   However, there is a lack of strong evidence of effectiveness for most of these interventions. 

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is caused by irritation or impingement of the sciatic nerve which runs  from the feet, through the legs, buttocks and to the back of the pelvis.  The cause of sciatica can be due to a problem in the pelvic region or in the lower back, such as a slipped disc.  Other factors that can trigger sciatica or damage to the spine include:

• Ageing, when discs often become naturally less flexible

• Smoking

• Poor posture when sitting

• Incorrect manual handling (lifting) techniques (i.e. lifting objects that are too heavy or bending the body awkwardly)

• Being overweight

• Accidents, i.e. in the car or having a fall

• Wear and tear from sports and hobbies

• Pregnancy and childbirth

• Spinal stenosis

• Spondylolisthesis

• Cauda equina syndrome

• Spinal injury/infection

• Tumour in the spine

How acupuncture can help?

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 (Yuan 2008, Furlan 2008)

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.

•reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.

•improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation, 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.

•influencing the neurotrophic factor signalling system, which is important in neuropathic pain.

•increasing levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, which can help reduce pain and speed nerve repair.

•improving the conductive parameters of the sciatic nerve.

•promoting regeneration of the sciatic nerve.

(Please contact me if you would like details of the research)

If you are suffering with any of the symptoms listed above, please refer to your GP before considering acupuncture.

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