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Could it be Sciatica?

Acupuncture bookham

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve that travels from the lower spine, through the pelvis and down each leg. Typically the pain can range from mild to severe and sufferers often describe tingling, numbness, or weakness felt in the buttocks and leg, possibly including pain that radiates down the leg into the foot and toes. However the symptoms can vary based on the location of the pinched nerve and can fluctuate from infrequent and irritating, to constant and incapacitating. Worsening symptoms when lifting one of your legs could suggest sciatica.

What Causes Sciatica?

There are a number of possible causes leading to the nerve compression that create sciatica symptoms and treatment will depend on the causes, but includes advice to stay active, continue daily activities, exercise therapy, painkillers, muscle relaxants, corticosteroid spinal injections, as well as acupuncture.

However if symptoms, persist X-ray and MIR investigations may reveal:

  • A herniated (or ‘slipped’) disc: a problem with one of the rubbery cushions between the individual vertebra bones that stack up to make your spine

  • Spondylolisthesis: where a vertebra bone in the spine slips out of position

  • Degenerative disc disease: the breakdown of the rubbery cushions between the vertebra bones

  • Spinal stenosis: a narrowing of the spinal canal which runs inside the spinal column of vertebra bones

  • Osteophytes: bony protuberances that the body sometimes produces in response to a weakened spine

  • Arthritis of the spine: the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints - this breakdown occurs in special joints called facet joints

Whereas true sciatica describes a sick or injured nerve root in the area where it leaves the spine, there are two other causes of sciatica-type symptoms which are not strictly sciatica. They are:

  • Piriformis syndrome: where the piriformis muscle in the buttock irritates or pinches the sciatic nerve root.

  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: where irritation of the sacroiliac joint (located at the bottom of the spine) irritates the L5 nerve, that lies on top of the sacroiliac joint, causing sciatica-type pain.

When to consider acupuncture?

Acupuncture appears to relieve sciatica by causing a temporary change in the sciatic nerve blood flow (Inoue 2008) and there is evidence that the effectiveness of acupuncture on sciatica may be better than drugs and may enhance the effect of drugs for patients with sciatica, (2015, Qin Z). In view of this and the relative safety of acupuncture, it is worth considering it for initial treatment as well as long term maintenance.

If you or someone you know is suffering from sciatica and want to discuss if acupuncture could help you. Please ring Julia Bletcher on 07872330502 for further information.

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