If you suffer with sciatica you’ll understand my ongoing discomfort, sometimes tipping over into pain, and my near-obsession with finding relief. Although I’d previously been sceptical of it as a treatment, I decided to look into acupuncture for sciatica after a friend spoke about it as a ‘miracle’ treatment. It couldn’t hurt to do some research, right?
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the term used to describe numbness, pain, and sometimes a burning sensation that radiates along the sciatic nerve, from the lower back or buttocks, and down the leg into the foot. It typically occurs on one side of the body, although it can switch sides (and regularly does for me!).
What Causes Sciatica?
There are a range of reasons you may experience sciatic pain, including:
- A slipped disc;
- Spondylolisthesis – a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one (not the same as a slipped disc);
- Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back);
- Back injury;
- Muscle spasm in the back or buttocks.
How Can Sciatica Be Treated?
There are many ways discomfort can be eased at home, including regular stretching, gentle exercise, and using heat packs. Over the counter pain relief is often effective to help with pain and it’s recommended to ensure you keep good posture and stay active.
Excess weight may contribute to sciatic pain and achieving a healthy weight can be beneficial in such cases.
If none of the above treatments improve your condition your GP may refer you for further investigations or for physiotherapy. Acupuncture may also be a viable treatment option suitable candidates.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice during which nerves are stimulated at specific points on the body, most often with a needle penetrating the skin, with the aim of alleviating pain.
As soon as I read complementary, I become sceptical, and that’s why this is something I’ve resisted looking into for so long.
My Experience of Sciatica
Ever since I had Pixie, my first daughter, I’ve suffered on and off with sciatica and back pain. I heard it can be a side effect of an epidural (I was induced), but finding evidence of this online has proven difficult, so that may be incorrect.
Perhaps more likely is that I had/have weakened abs – either way, the fact remains that for the last several years I’ve experienced sciatic pain in one or other of my legs almost constantly.
Weirdly, it regularly switches over night from one side to the other, and I often concurrently have a trapped nerve running from my shoulder down my arm and into my hand on the same side. I also have very flat feet which I’ve had to accept in the past year also require treatment (expensive orthotics). So basically I’m falling apart.
My point is only that I realise I have a lot of issues going on, and pinpointing the cause is difficult – I just want it fixed. Alas, with no definitive origin, this is less than straight forward.
At this point I’m willing to give anything a go if there’s some evidence of its efficacy…
So, Does Acupuncture Work?
There does seem to be evidence that it can be beneficial in some circumstances – although it would seem that more research is necessary. Based on this article I found, studies to date are flawed and it’s possible that positive findings are as a result of the placebo effect.
Nonetheless, that also has its place and in my opinion is not, in itself, a reason to dismiss acupuncture. I was still intrigued and willing to give it a shot.
Is Acupuncture Effective for Sciatica?
Substantial research exists which shows acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good, if not better than, standard medical care for back pain. Less specific research exists regarding acupuncture for sciatica, but there’s evidence to suggest that it may provide some pain relief.
How Acupuncture Works for Sciatica
Beyond the placebo effect, it’s thought that acupuncture leads to the release of endorphins, which may change the way the body processes pain.
I’m not 100% convinced based on that information, but I’ll take it if it helps. Except it’s pricey and it means trying to carve out the time to actually go to an appointment…
And then I saw a Facebook ad for a shakti mat (sciatica acupuncture mat).
I started reading some of the comments, and they were very positive. I decided that for the princely sum of £24.90, it had to be worth a try. Here’s an acupressure mat for sciatica (and other back pain) very similar to the one I bought (also known as a shakti mat):
Acupuncture for Sciatica, By Way of a Mat!
I didn’t know what to expect at all – would it hurt? Would it be a strange but essentially pleasant sensation? Would it work?!
Frankly, I had low expectations. I wasn’t even sure whether a mat would be as effective as going for a ‘proper’ treatment, I just decided that it was a good starting point and would give me an idea at least. Plus it had the added bonus of being something I could use at home at my convenience and leisure.
Acupuncture Mat Review
The set I bought comes with a mat and a ‘pillow’. They’re both covered in spikes, as you’d expect.
My first impression was that it looked kind of painful. Put it this way: I’ve deliberately not allowed my girls to discover the mat – I know it would hurt them and is best kept away from mischievous children. It also looked kind of small, not even reaching from neck to feet. And the quality is pretty basic.
But, I don’t need luxury – it just needs to hit the right spots and do what it’s designed to do, which is take away my sciatic discomfort.
I set myself up one evening whilst watching Suits… As I lay down, the sensation was pretty intense! Of course this was the first time I’d ever lay on anything spiky, so I had to acclimatise. Once I was in position the unusual and slightly uncomfortable feeling dissipated, and it began to feel…somehow pleasurable. A bit like a deep massage can be both uncomfortable and satisfying!
I found that it’s actually very pleasant to grind my neck and scalp against pillow. It’s entirely plausible that I’m a bit of an oddball – I’m sure not everybody would find that a particularly enjoyable sensation. But then my favourite part of getting my hair cut is the few minutes during which my head is massaged.
In much the same way, standing on the mat is masochistically gratifying too!
Did It Work?!
I’ve had the mat for a few weeks now. I’ve only used it a couple of times, so in some ways I feel like a bit of a fraud.
But the reason for not having used it more, is because I’ve not needed to.
Has it worked? I can’t say for absolute certain, but the evidence points to yes… Or perhaps it’s simply a coincidence – who can say?
I’ll continue to use the mat when I feel the need, and I’ll update this post in a few months or so if my sciatica returns and it doesn’t seem to help again. But for the time being, I think I’m a convert. And for the price of a coffee and cake date, it’s been totally worth it for me.
Have you tried acupuncture? Did it work for you?