Sciatica (also known as lumbar radiculopathy) is a syndrome involving nerve root impingement and or inflammation that causes pain, numbness or tingling in the areas that are supplied by the affected nerve root. Nerves exit the spine via nerve roots in between the vertebrae. A group of nerves in the lower back merge to form the sciatic nerve. Sciatica occurs when something is pressing or rubbing the nerve as it exits the spine, such as:

  • Slipped disc (herniated disc)
  • Spinal Stenosis – where the part of the spine where the nerve passes through is narrowed
  • Spondylolisthesis – where a vertebra (bone in the spine) slips out of position
  • An injury or trauma to the lower back
  • Muscle spasms in lower back and buttocks
  • Pregnancy

Conventional management includes advice to stay active and continue daily activities; exercise therapy; analgesics (e.g. paracetamol, NSAIDs, an opioid); muscle relaxants; corticosteroid spinal injections; and referral for consideration of surgery. However, there is a lack of strong evidence of effectiveness for most of these interventions (Hagen 2007, Luijsterburg 2007).

There is substantial research to show that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and also at least as good, if not better than, standard medical care for back pain (Yuan 2008, Furlan 2008). There is less specific research on acupuncture for sciatica, but there is evidence to suggest that it may provide some pain relief (Wang 2009, Chen 2009, Inoue 2008, Wang 2004)

York Clinic’s acupuncturist Rachel Hemblade shares one of her patient’s perspectives of acupuncture treatment for sciatica in her blog

Acupuncture can help relieve back pain and sciatica by:

  • Stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Zhao 2008).
  • Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003).
  • Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling.
  • Causing a transient change in sciatic nerve blood flow, including circulation to the cauda equine and nerve root. This response is eliminated or attenuated by administration of atropine, indicating that it occurs mainly via cholinergic nerves (Inoue 2008).
  • Influencing the neurotrophic factor signalling system, which is important in neuropathic pain (Dong 2006).
  • Increasing levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, which can help reduce pain and speed nerve repair (Wang 2005).
  • Improving the conductive parameters of the sciatic nerve (Zhang 2005).
  • Promoting regeneration of the sciatic nerve (La 2005)

To book an appointment with Rachel Hemblade or one of our other acupuncturists please contact York Clinic on 01904-709688 or email