Can Acupuncture Cure Sciatica?

By Saira Ahmed

The longest nerve in the body is the sciatic nerve, which runs from your spinal cord, past your buttocks, and down each of your legs. Pain that is felt along all or part of the pathway of this nerve is referred to as "sciatica."

Sciatica itself is not an ailment; rather, it is a symptom of a problem with your sciatic nerve, such as a herniated disk. Treatment for sciatica involves reducing pain and improving mobility. In some cases, sciatica goes away on its own without treatment.

Acupuncture Origins

Acupuncture treatment is more than 5,000 years old. Contrary to popular belief, it was not exclusively a Chinese practice. Many people across the globe, including Eskimos, Arabs and South African Bantu tribesmen, have used different methods of acupuncture throughout history.

The ancient Chinese medical text "Huangdi Neijing" was written around 200 B.C. and included information about acupuncture, which is now used worldwide, with more than 8,000 practitioners in the United States alone.

Traditional Philosophy

Acupuncture is based on the belief that our life energy, or qi, must flow uninterrupted through our body. Qi, blood and body fluids are the fundamental substances that make up the body and regulate our functions.The health and circulation of blood and body fluids depend upon the proper flow of qi.

Qi runs through your body along channels called meridians. If any of these meridians become obstructed, your qi becomes blocked, resulting in pain or illness. Acupuncture and acupressure stimulate specific points along the meridians, which stimulates the body to heal itself.

Modern Western View

One popular Western theory of why acupuncture works is that the insertion of needles into particular points stimulates our central nervous system to release biochemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. These biochemicals then help ease pain, regulate our body functions and strengthen our immune system.

Acupuncture Treatment for Sciatica

According to traditional Chinese medicine, several things can cause sciatica, such as the stagnation of blood and qi in the meridians that affect your back, or the presence of cold, or damp qi energy in your meridians.

Your acupuncturist makes the diagnosis and then treats it by inserting needles into the proper points, which eventually corrects the underlying root of your sciatica. Your acupuncturist may also prescribe traditional Chinese herbal medicines to complement the treatment, Chinese massage or stretching exercises.


A study done by the Nordic Cochrane Centre and published in the British Medical Journal in 2009 that researched the effects of acupuncture on patients with a variety of pain conditions concluded that acupuncture had "a small analgesic effect" but "whether needling at acupuncture points, or at any site, reduces pain independently of the psychological impact of the treatment ritual is unclear."

To date, there has been no conclusive scientific study that proves that acupuncture cures sciatica. If you decide to undergo acupuncture treatment for sciatica, it is advisable to talk to your doctor and go to a licensed acupuncturist.