If you’re one of the thousands of people who suffer from sciatica, you may be wondering what to do to relieve the pain. Should you utilize conventional treatments like pain medications? What about complementary and alternative treatments like acupuncture?
In the content below, we’ll explore sciatica and it’s risk factors, along with what research studies have shown about the effectiveness and success rates of acupuncture for treating sciatica, how many treatments you may need, and the cost of those treatments.
First, let’s explore what sciatica is, and it’s surprising link to emotional stress…
What is Sciatica?
If you suffer from sciatica, then you’re familiar with the pain that radiates in your lower back, hips, thighs, and legs.
According to researchers Zhang et al, ‘Sciatica is defined as radicular leg pain localized to the dermatological distribution of a pathologically affected nerve root. Almost all discogenic sciatica is induced by lumbar disc herniation (LDH) and may be accompanied by neurological deficits, such as leg pain, leg paresthesia, disability, and low back pain.’
In addition to these symptoms, other researchers have shown the connection between pain and emotions, demonstrating that emotional anxiety can be a trigger for pain, including sciatica.
People who experience sciatica may also suffer from various co-occuring conditions, including depression, anxiety, or sleep disorders.
According to Koes, et al, there are several key risk factors for sciatica, including:
- Age (45-64 years)
- Height (increases risk)
- Mental Stress
- Emotional Stress
- Physical Stress
- Driving (vibration of the entire body)
Does Acupuncture Work for Sciatica?
When it comes to relieving burning pain, nerve pain, or sciatica pain from pregnancy, research suggests that “the use of acupuncture may be more effective than drugs and may enhance the effect of drugs for patients with sciatica, but because of the insufficient number of relevant and rigorous studies, the evidence is limited.”
Other studies have shown that acupuncture is ‘superior to no treatment in improving pain intensity, disability, functioning, well-being, and range of mobility immediately after the treatment.
That’s good news!
And maybe also not so good…
Because it means that acupuncture, while effective for pain releif, is not necessarily going to provide permanent relief for sciatica. In fact, according to a report prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ‘the benefit of CAM treatments was mostly evident immediately or shortly after the end of the treatment and then faded with time’ in relation to pain treatment.
Three results of three studies included in Ji’s meta-analysis entitled: The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica, revealed that subjects receiving acupuncture experienced ‘a significantly greater reduction in pain intensity than those who received conventional medication.’ Medications included Ibuprofen + Prednisone, Ibuprofen, and Diclofenac.
According to researchers Ji et al, ‘pooled analysis of nine studies with 780 patients in the acupuncture group and 771 in the medication group revealed that acupuncture was significantly more effective than conventional medication.”
Further, Ji and his team did a comprehensive search of eight electronic databases, accessing twelve studies with 1842 participants in their review. According to the researchers, ‘analysis of outcomes revealed that acupuncture is more effective than medication for individuals with sciatica for effectiveness, pain intensity, and pain threshold.’
The conclusion from the researchers is that ‘acupuncture is clinically effective, reduces pain intensity, and increases pain threshold in patients with sciatica compared with medication.’
Success rates were determined using strict guidelines, calculated and plotted against a graph to determine the outcomes and included the number of patients cured, markedly improved, and improved against the sample size of participants in the study. The specifics of how the success rates were calculated may be read in the study.
How Many Treatments?
The number of treatments you’ll need will depend on what your acupuncturist recommends. However, in a study by Chen et al, participants received acupuncture once a day for 10 days with three days of rest and then another course of 10 days. Others in various studies received acupuncture three to six times per week for two weeks in order to see significant improvement.
Using a general cost of $75 per session, you can expect to pay a substantial amount to utilize acupuncture in your treatment of sciatica. To follow the same regimen used in clinical trials we shared above, which produced significantly positive results, you will expect to pay $900 to $1800 per month for acupuncture treatments. Utilizing community acupuncture could significantly reduce that amount, perhaps by a third, to $300-$600/mo.
18 Acupuncture Points for Sciatica
According to the acupuncture points used in various research studies, points for sciatica include:
- Shenshu (BL 54)
- Dachangshu (BL 25)
- Xiaochangshu (BL 27)
- Huantiao (GB 30)
- Yinmen (BL 37)
- Zhibien (BL 54)
- Chengfu (BL 36)
- Fengshi (GB 31)
- Weizhong (BL 40)
- Zusanli (ST 36)
- Yanglingquan (GB 34)
- Yinlingquan (SP 9)
- Feiyang (BL 58)
- Sanyinjiao (SP 6)
- Juegu (GB 39)
- KunLun (BL 60)
- Taixi (KI 3)
- Shenmai (BL 62)
Acupuncture VS Chiropractic
According to this study, chiropractic ‘manipulation was better than acupuncture in improving pain and function in chronic nonspecific low back pain.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Medicare cover the cost of acupuncture for sciatica?
Medicare Part B will cover the cost of acupuncture for up to 12 visits in 90 days for chronic low back pain. The pain must not be associated with surgery or pregnancy, have a known cause, and must have been experienced for 12 weeks or longer. If your symptoms improve, Medicare will cover up to 8 additional sessions for a total of 20 sessions yearly.
Chin, MD, MS, J. (2020, January 21). Decision Memo for Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/details/nca-decision-memo.aspx?NCAId=295
Furlan A, Yazdi F, Tsertsvadze A, Gross A, Van Tulder, M, Santaguida L, Cherkin D, Gagnier J, Ammendolia C, Ansari M, Ostermann T, Dryden T, Doucette S, Skidmore B, Daniel R, Tsouros S, Weeks L, Galipeau J. Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Back Pain II. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 194. (Prepared by the University of Ottawa Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2007-10059-I (EPCIII). AHRQ Publication No. 10(11) E007. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2010.
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
Koes, B. W., van Tulder, M. W., & Peul, W. C. (2007). Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 334(7607), 1313–1317. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39223.428495.BE
Lu YX, Shan QH. [Clinical observation on treatment of cervicogenic headache with turtle-probing needling at Tianzhu (BL 10)]. [Chinese]. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu 2006 Nov;26(11):796-8.
Torta, R., Ieraci, V., & Zizzi, F. (2017). A Review of the Emotional Aspects of Neuropathic Pain: From Comorbidity to Co-Pathogenesis. Pain and therapy, 6(Suppl 1), 11–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40122-017-0088-z ‘
Zhang, X., Wang, Y., Wang, Z., Wang, C., Ding, W., & Liu, Z. (2017). A Randomized Clinical Trial Comparing the Effectiveness of Electroacupuncture versus Medium-Frequency Electrotherapy for Discogenic Sciatica. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2017, 9502718. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/9502718