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Jolting sciatica pain

Published:Wednesday | June 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Tracey-Ann Brown, Complementary & Oriental Medicine

Sciatica is pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve and its branches. Mild or severe pain, 'electric jolts' or burning sensations that radiate from the lower/lumbar spine to the buttocks and down the back of the thigh and calf is the hallmark of sciatica. Additional symptoms often include numbness, muscle weakness and tingling sensations.

Sciatica may develop along one extremity when a nerve root is compressed in your lower/lumbar spine - often as a result of a herniated (bulging or broken) disk. Disks are pads of cartilage between the bones/vertebrae of the spine, which keep the spine flexible and act as shock absorbers to cushion the vertebrae with movement.

Although a herniated disk is a common cause of sciatic nerve pain, other conditions can put pressure on your sciatic nerve, including narrowing of the spine, degenerative disk disease, tightening or spasms of the piriformis muscle (between the lower spine and the thighbone/femur) and Injury (car accidents, a fall or blow to the spine, carrying heavy loads or driving for long periods).

Acupuncture Treatment

During acupuncture, thin sterilised needles are inserted into the skin at specific acupuncture points. By gently stimulating these acupuncture points stagnated qi/energy is unblocked allowing the smooth flow of qi and blood in the surrounding tissue in order to relieve pain.

The points selected correspond with the path of the pain and follow the trajectory of one or two acupuncture meridians/pathways depending on whether the pain runs along the back and/or side of the leg. Points on the feet along the same meridian are also needled which assist in pain relief by promoting the free flow of qi in the entire meridian in order to clear pain along its pathway. In most cases, you won't feel the needles, in fact, many people find the treatments extremely relaxing. Acupuncture may be done alongside the Chinese medicine technique of cupping.


Suction cups are applied, especially in cases where there are spasms and tightness in the muscles, prior to the insertion of needles to relax the muscles and enhance the overall effectiveness of the treatment.

Acupuncture treatments may be given up to twice weekly, and usually no more than a week apart for speedy recovery.

Home remedies

Resting for a few days may provide some relief, but prolonged bed rest isn't a good idea. Inactivity in the long run will worsen your symptoms. So continue your usual activities while being careful to avoid pain triggers.

Cold packs to reduce initial inflammation and relieve discomfort, for up to 20 minutes several times a day

Hot packs: after two days of pain onset

Low-back stretching. Hold stretch for at least 30 seconds. Avoid jerking, bouncing or twisting during the stretch.

Regular low-impact exercise. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it prompts the release of endorphins - the body's natural painkillers (water exercises, stationary bicycling).

Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture; email: