The peak body for Chinese medicine in Australia (AACMA at acupuncture.org.au) is about to release the results of The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review.
The conclusion of this review is that ‘acupuncture is twice as effective as standard care for sciatica, and more effective than all other interventions other than injecting a biological agent.’ 1
The graphic below shows the results of this review in 2015.2
The only treatment superior to acupuncture was the injection of biological agents such as cortisone.
Why Then, is Acupuncture a Last Resort for Sciatica Pain?
By the time someone resorts to acupuncture they have usually been through the treatment mill of medications, physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage, stretching injections, bed rest and sometimes surgery. So why didn’t they seek acupuncture treatment first?
- We live in a Western society which naturally has a heavy historical and systemic bias to Western medicine. Unlike in China where they use both Western and Chinese medicine to get the best of both worlds to get the best result for patients.
- GPs are often the first port of call for patients and a GP really only has one primary form of treatment for pain and that is medication. Medications can be oral anti-inflammatories, non-steroidals, pain killers and can also include steroidal injections (cortisone). Medications usually do not treat the root cause of problems and are usually only appropriate in the short-term otherwise they can cause more harm than good.
- If medications don’t do the job or if the patient doesn’t want to take them, GPs will often refer to physiotherapists. Physiotherapy is a western medicine-orientated form of treatment, which Western medical practitioners are comfortable referring to. There may also be some Medicare funding for physiotherapy.
- Sciatica often comes with back pain and the term ‘back pain’ is owned by chiropractic (hats off to them as they have done a really good job with this). If you have back pain most people would think ‘chiropractor’.
- Some will seek massage therapy for sciatica. This can help relieve symptoms but it cannot penetrate deep enough to where the problems are and has not proven to be overly effective for sciatica per the research mentioned above.
- GPs will sometimes refer to a specialist who may in turn recommend surgery. Surgery is sometimes required but it should be a last resort – after all other treatment options are exhausted.
So, it is only after exhausting some or all of these treatment options do people think outside the box and say ‘well, I may as well give acupuncture a go!’
Acupuncture: the First Resort for Sciatica Pain
Acupuncture is highly effective in treating sciatica pain. Acupuncture increases blood flow to the problem area, which brings in the natural pain killers (like endorphins and enkephalins) and the body’s repair crew (red and white blood cells, macrophages, collagen, etc…) to start fixing the problem.
- can get to where the problems are;
- retrains your body to look after itself;
- does not require you to do any exercises at home;
- requires no effort during treatment;
- is drug-free; and
- is safe.
Acupuncture should be the first resort for sciatica pain.
- Lewis R WN, Matar HE, et al. The Clinical Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Management Strategies for Sciatica: Systematic Review and Economic Model. Health Technology Assessment, No 1539. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2011. 13.
- Lewis RA, Williams NH, Sutton AJ, Burton K, Din NU, Matar HE, et al. Comparative clinical effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and network metaanalyses. The spine journal: official journal of the North American Spine Society. 2015 Jun 1;15(6):1461-77