Sciatica - A Chinese Medicine Perspective
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is one of the most frequently reported complaints; it affects quality of life and reduces social and economic efficacy . Sciatica is a symptom rather than a specific diagnosis. Available evidence from basic science and clinical research indicates that both inflammation and compression of the sciatic nerve are important in order for the nerve root to be symptomatic .
Typically, sciatic pain radiates from the lower (lumbar) spine to the buttock and down the back. People might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it’s especially likely to follow a path from the low back to the buttock and the back of the thigh and calf . It may however also radiate to the inguinal region.
The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. Usually only one side of your body is affected .
Some people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part .
It is estimated that at least 50% of people in Western industrialized countries will suffer from back pain at some time of their life .
Conventional treatment utilises pharmaceutical approaches such as Anti-inflammatories, Muscle relaxants, Narcotics, Tricyclic antidepressants, Anti-seizure medications and/or Corticosteroids.
How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view Sciatica
In Chinese medicine, lower back pain and sciatica are discusses together as they share common causes such as: Excessive physical work; Excessive sexual activity; Pregnancy and childbirth; Invasion of external cold and dampness; Inadequate exercise .
As with the causes of sciatica and lower back ache, TCM pathologies are very similar and include:
- Retention of Cold Dampness
- Stagnation of Qi and Blood
- Unaffected by the application of heat
- Kidney deficiency
- Liver-Qi stagnation
Treatment with acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine is aimed at addressing the organ pathology associated with sciatica . Several research studies have shown acupuncture to be highly effective, safe [4,5,6,7] and in some instances more effective than conventional drug therapy [4,6,7].
Unlike conventional treatment, which essentially considers sciatica as an inflammatory response of the sciatic nerve to compression of one kind or another on the nerve root, Chinese medicine differentiates between the various causes and pathologies which are reflected in the signs and symptoms of the patient.
For example, in the case of Qi and Blood stagnation the pain experienced by the patient is most likely of a sharp, stabbing and possibly severe type, whereas sciatic pain due to Cold-Damp is dull and aching in nature and will usually respond to the application of heat.
At Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre our highly qualified and experienced team of practitioners are happy to develop a personalised treatment programme with you. Simply call (02)4573 0784
What You Can Do to Help Yourself
1. Ji, M., Wang, X., Chen, M., Shen, Y., Zhang, X., & Yang, J. (2015). The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2015, 192808. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/192808
2. Valat, J. P., Genevay, S., Marty, M., Rozenberg, S., & Koes, B. (2010). Sciatica. Best practice & research. Clinical rheumatology, 24(2), 241–252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.berh.2009.11.005
3. Mayo Clinic. Sciatica. URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sciatica/symptoms-causes/syc-20377435. Last visited: 8th Aug. 2021
4. Marciocia, G. (1994) The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Disease with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs, Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
5. Haake, M., Müller, H. H., Schade-Brittinger, C., Basler, H. D., Schäfer, H., Maier, C., Endres, H. G., Trampisch, H. J., & Molsberger, A. (2007). German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low back pain: randomized, multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Archives of internal medicine, 167(17), 1892–1898. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.167.17.1892
6. Huang, Z., Liu, S., Zhou, J., Yao, Q., & Liu, Z. (2019). Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture for Chronic Discogenic Sciatica, a Randomized Controlled Sham Acupuncture Trial. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 20(11), 2303–2310. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnz167
7. Qin, Z., Liu, X., Wu, J., Zhai, Y., & Liu, Z. (2015). Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Treating Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2015, 425108. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/425108