Acupuncture for Sciatica: Needle Position for Relief

A Complementary Therapy That May Be Combined With Medications

Acupuncture for sciatica is a safe and effective practice to relieve pain. Some studies suggest that it may be more effective—and cause fewer side effects—than prescription pain relievers. How long it takes for acupuncture to relieve sciatica pain varies from person to person, but many people report some improvement within two to three weeks. Acupuncture For Allergies

This article explores the potential of acupuncture for relieving sciatica pain, including how it works, what to expect during and after acupuncture sessions, and how to find an acupuncture practitioner for sciatica symptoms. 

Acupuncture is based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept that the body’s life energy, or chi (sometimes spelled as "qi" or "ch'i"), flows through the body on meridians (pathways). Chi disruptions can cause energy to get stuck or stagnant in one or more meridians, leading to pain and disease in that area.

The goal of acupuncture is to restore the normal flow of chi by stimulating specific points in the body called acupoints. Using fine, sterile needles to stimulate acupoints may initiate the body’s natural healing processes to help promote health and reduce pain.

Some practitioners use electroacupuncture (electricity passes through the tissues from the needles) to activate the nervous system.

Acupuncture for sciatica involves targeting specific acupoints along the gallbladder and bladder meridians thought to be connected to the sciatic nerve. 

The bladder meridian (BL) runs down the back of the body along the spine, hips, and legs. Acupoints used for sciatica within this meridian include:

The gallbladder meridian (GB) runs along the sides of the body from the corner of the eyes down to the pinky toe. The most frequently used acupoints for sciatica within this meridian are:

Stimulating acupoints in these meridians may help increase blood flow to the area, reduce inflammation, and promote the release of endorphins and other pain-relieving neurochemicals to relieve sciatica symptoms.

The specific acupoints targeted may vary depending on your symptoms and the root cause of sciatica.

Acupuncture shows promise as a complementary therapy for reducing nerve pain. Research shows that acupuncture may have specific effects that relieve nerve pain:

Sciatica is common during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. Hormonal changes, a growing uterus, and changes to your center of gravity can irritate and compress the sciatic nerve, leading to pain.

Acupuncture is a low-risk therapy for aches and pains during pregnancy and may help reduce sciatica pain. Research shows acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for sciatica during pregnancy. It can help improve circulation and reduce pain and inflammation without adverse effects on the pregnant person or fetus.

Some acupoints are contraindicated for pregnancy as they can induce labor. Consult a healthcare provider before trying acupuncture, especially while pregnant.

Your initial visit to an acupuncturist will include a thorough review of your medical history, symptoms, and health goals. Afterward, the acupuncturist may ask you to change into a gown and lie on an acupuncture table so they can easily access the necessary acupoints.

The acupuncturist will begin your session by selecting the appropriate size needles based on your age, body type, and the location of acupoints they plan to access. 

They will wash their hands, then open a new, sealed package of sterile needles and place them on a clean tray. Before inserting the needles, they may use an alcohol swab or similar antiseptic on your skin where they plan to insert needles.

The acupuncturist will gently insert the needles at a shallow depth into the selected acupoints for sciatica. Most people experience little to no pain during this process. You may feel a brief, mild prick or tingling at the needle insertion point.

Once the needles are in place, you will relax for about 20 to 30 minutes. The acupuncturist may leave the room during this time, but they will check on you regularly. You may experience a sense of warmth, tingling, or mild heaviness around the needle sites but should not feel any pain. This is a normal response to acupuncture; many people find it calming.

After the session, your acupuncturist will carefully remove the needles. It’s common to feel deeply relaxed after acupuncture, so take your time getting up to prevent dizziness. You may notice minor redness, bruising, or soreness at the needle sites. This is normal and should fade quickly. Your acupuncturist may offer advice on self-care practices for the rest of the day, such as:

How you feel after acupuncture can vary from person to person. Some people may feel calmer and relaxed, while others may feel more energized. Feelings you may experience after an acupuncture session include:

Talk to your acupuncturist if you have concerns about how you feel after an acupuncture session.

Finding a qualified, licensed acupuncturist is the best way to ensure safe treatment and results. Here’s what to consider when looking for an acupuncture clinic or acupuncturist:

Once you find potential acupuncture clinics, call and ask questions to learn more about the clinic’s policies and procedures and determine if it is a good fit for you. 

Insurance coverage for acupuncture varies by insurance providers and plans. Some insurance plans cover acupuncture for sciatica, while others do not. Contact your insurance provider to ask about your plan’s coverage. Medicare covers up to 12 acupuncture sessions annually for chronic low-back pain. Medicaid coverage varies from state to state.

If your insurance plan does not cover acupuncture, you will pay for treatments out of pocket. The cost of acupuncture varies depending on the clinic’s location, the acupuncturist’s experience, and the number of treatments you need. Some acupuncture clinics offer sliding scale fees based on income, and some may offer discounts for multiple sessions.

Acupuncture for sciatica is an effective, safe therapy that helps to reduce pain, inflammation, and muscle tension. Acupuncturists target specific points on the body believed to be connected to the sciatic nerve. Sessions typically last between 20 and 30 minutes, and many people with sciatica report improvements within a few sessions.

Talk to a healthcare provider to determine if acupuncture for sciatica is right for you and for recommendations to local reputable practitioners. 

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