Acupuncture for Sciatica

Sciatica usually refers to pain which refers along the course of the sciatic nerve—deep in the buttocks, down the back of the thigh and possibly to the back of the knee, the back and lateral aspect of the calf and foot.  It is rarely an inflamed nerve (known as neuritis) but more often a symptom that is characteristic of several syndromes:

  • Lumbar disc herniation (most common)
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Sacro-iliac strain
  • Intraspinal tumour

Acupuncture can be extremely effective in the treatment of both chronic and acute back ache, even when there are structural imbalances in the spine.  Many cases of chronic back ache have been cleared in a few sessions, although back ache accompanied by sciatica can take longer to treat.

Probably the main underlying cause of back ache is a sedentary lifestyle with very little exercise.  Gentle exercise such as brisk walking, T’ai Chi and gentle stretching and twisting exercises can all help to prevent back ache.  In some cases excessive exercise can cause back problems, especially if such exercise includes excessive jogging or aerobic exercise for those in their late 30’s or 40’s.

Sciatica and TCM

Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica in orthodox medicine is based on the location and nature of the pain. Most often anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs will be prescribed. These may block the symptom but do not treat the underlying cause.  In TCM, diagnosis and treatment of sciatica and related conditions is based upon an in-depth consultation which involves identifying the causative factors of the pain. Treatment is based upon a number of factors including physical and emotional signs and symptoms. During a treatment, the practitioner will work with the patient to balance their body and mind. For example, much attention is given to the detail of the patient’s lifestyle, diet, exercise and previous history.  Other practices, such as Chi Kung and T’ai Chi, flowing forms of martial arts, may also be recommended to enable the patient to relieve their pain and enable them to manage their health in a constructive way.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Sciatica?

Research into the treatment of lower back pain, both chronic and acute, indicates that acupuncture can be helpful.  Duplan et al (1983) researched the use of acupuncture for sciatica in the acute phase and found that it could significantly improve the symptoms.  Zhi and Jing (1995) demonstrated that scalp acupuncture could also be effective.


Duplan, B., Cabanel, G, Piton JL., Grauer, JL, Phelip, X. (1983) Acupuncture and sciatica in the acute phase.  Double blind study of 30 cases. La semaine des hopitaux; organe fonde par l’Axxociation d’enseignement medical des hopitaux de Paris. Vol 59, no 45 pp 3109-3114

Legge, D (1997) Close to the Bone, The Treatment of Musculo-Skeletal Disorder with Acupuncture and other Traditional Chinese Medicine: 2nd Ed. Woy Woy, Sydney College Press

Maciocia, G(2008) The Practice of Chinese Medicine Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstons

Zhi, L, Jing, S. (1995) Clinical comparison between scalp acupuncture combined with a single body acupoint and body acupuncture alone for the treatment of sciatica American Journal of Acupuncture, Vol 23, no 4 pp 305-307.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states.  Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia.  A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis.  Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner.  The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.