Sciatica is a problem that is as old as the first books written on acupuncture dating back to 300 BCE. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing) discusses treatment for many conditions including sciatica. In my experience in modern Chinese hospitals, I have observed many different types of needle and moxibustion techniques used in the treatment of sciatica. Modern medicine has shown us how the different levels of vertebra involvement will cause symptoms at different areas because of the dermatomes and nerve root distribution. This then has led to the modern day acupuncturist doing needle treatment at a particular vertebrae level. For example, treatment for the 4th lumbar vertebra could be chosen if the patient was experiencing pain, burning or numbness going to the inside of the calf as this follows the dermatome nerve root distribution for that area.
Sciatica is as common in China as it is here in the West and would be one of the most common complaints I see in clinic. Generally I find, most patients presenting with sciatica have had a history of low back pain and prognosis is generally favorable after several treatments. However longstanding sciatica that has led to wasting of the muscles can require a longer course of treatment.
Sciatic pain can go down the side or back of the leg, does this require different treatment?
This is an important diagnostic consideration when questioning any patient with sciatica, as pain on the side of the leg means there is gallbladder meridian involvement and the back of the leg, bladder meridian involvement.
What can cause sciatica according to traditional principles?
One common pattern causing sciatica is due to liver deficiency. The liver controls the sinews, tendons and ligaments and hence all the attachments between muscles and bones may be unnourished. In cases like this I use what is known as a root treatment to get to the cause of the problem. It surprises people that I use points on the feet even when there is no pain or numbness there.
What is an example of a modern needle technique for sciatica?
The acupuncture point huantiao GB-30 in the buttock can be needled with a deep insertion with the aim of getting a nerve like sensation going all the way to the foot. Another example is using the huatuojiajia points which are located just below and to the side of the spinous processes that correspond to the nerve roots.
Is acupuncture for sciatica covered by ACC in New Zealand?
Sciatica and radiculopathy (nerve root pain) when caused by an injury is covered by New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation ACC. Acupuncture NZ has qualified and experienced members throughout New Zealand.