Sciatica is a severe pain which radiates down the back of the leg. Typically it is caused by compression or irritation of the nerve roots exiting the spine that form the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerves are the largest and longest nerves of the body, reaching about the size of your pinky or forefinger in diameter.
There are a number of reasons the sciatic nerve could become compressed, entrapped, or irritated. In “true” sciatica, displaced spinal vertabrae, herniated or degenerated spinal disc(s) can compress the nerve roots and cause irritation. Muscular spasming or weakness in the connective tissue in these areas can precipitate and certainly make these problems worse.
In the United States each year, 1.5 million people have lumbar MRI scans to look for the cause of the buttock and leg pain called ‘sciatica’. More than 1.2 million of those scans fail to find the cause in the spine. Often sciatic pain is misdiagnosed. A condition known as Piriformis Syndrome is often the culprit. When this muscle is in spasm, it will shorten and increase in diameter. The sciatica nerve runs behind the piriformis muscle and in front of the pelvic bone, thus there is very little room for the nerve. When the muscle goes into spasm it presses on the nerve and refers pain into the buttock and down the leg. Another problem that can mimick sciatic pain is fatigue or spasming of the Gluteus Minimus muscle in the buttocks. This muscle will also refer pain down the leg.
Acupuncture, which strengthens connective tissue and facilitates muscular relaxation is utilized to strategically treat the deeper muscles of the buttocks as well as the tendinomuscular aspects of the spine. It can stop the frustrating cycle of muscle spasms, pain and eventually loss of function by increasing circulation to the muscles and prompting the body to heal itself.
Acupuncture has a long clinical history of effectively treating sciatic like pain. In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) officially recognized acupuncture as a safe and effective treatment for pain and sciatica.
The diagrams below illustrate how muscular reaction patterns can lead to different types of sciatic like pain depending on the referral pattern of the affected musculature. Acupuncture points (trigger points) are marked “X” and are very effective points to treat the associated referral pain often seen going down the leg.