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  • Shelly Buse, L.Ac.


One online medical dictionary defines sciatica as such: “pain along the course of a sciatic nerve especially in the back of the thigh caused by compression, inflammation, or reflex mechanisms.” While a sufferer of sciatica is more likely to describe their experience as “excruciating”, “debilitating”, ”stabbing”, “burning”, “crippling”, or “incapacitating”. Either way, you can be sure it’s something you don’t want to experience!

The sciatic nerve is the largest and, arguably, the longest nerve in our body. Beginning in the lumbar region, it passes through the sciatic notch of the pelvis, through the buttocks area and runs down the back of the leg to the knee, branching off and innervating the leg all the way down to the feet. Any obstruction of this nerve can result in horrible pain.

Examples of obstructions are:

  • Lumbar Spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal foramen in the lumbar region.

  • Spondylolisthesis, which is a condition in which one vertebra slips out of alignment with the one near it, thereby putting pressure on the nerve.

  • Piriformis syndrome, which is the pressure put on the sciatic nerve by an inflamed piriformis muscle as they travel together through the bony sciatic notch of the pelvis

  • Tumors

  • Trauma

Treatment options range from bed rest to surgery, and include chiropractics, physical therapy, and of course, Acupuncture.

Acupuncture is especially known for its pain-relieving abilities and can be very effective at relieving sciatic pain. The trajectory of the pain informs an Acupuncturist of which acupuncture meridians are involved. Most sciatic pain travels down the back of the leg, though quite often it travels down the lateral side. Some people’s pain stops at the knee, while for others it carries on all the way down to the feet.

Your acupuncturist will ask you questions, like:

  • What time of day or night is the pain worse?

  • What is the quality of the pain (dull, sharp, throbbing)?

  • Does heat help?

  • Does ice?

  • Is sitting worse or is standing?

  • Does rainy weather exacerbate it?

  • Cold weather?

  • Hot weather?”

  • And they will ask you a series of seemingly unrelated questions, like: How’s your hearing? Do you have knee pain? Urinary problems? Muscle cramping?, etc.

The answers to these questions vary from patient to patient and allow the Acupuncturist to form a pattern differentiation. For example, a patient who experiences relief with ice and has no spasms will most likely receive a different treatment than one who finds relief with heat and has persistent cramping. And if herbs are prescribed the formulas will be fundamentally different.

There is no “one treatment fits all” nor is there a “one pill cures all” approach to Chinese Medicine. Each person’s situation is as unique and as dynamic as they, themselves, are. Furthermore, with each visit the patient is reassessed and treated according to the presenting symptoms which may have changed from previous visits. Your herbal formula will most likely change as well. It is in this way your Acupuncturist travels alongside of you, assisting in your healing process, honoring both your uniqueness and your particular path to wellness.

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