Treating Lower Back Pain & Sciatica with Chinese Medicine

Treating Lower Back Pain & Sciatica with Chinese Medicine

17 October 2015 by Caitlin Armit

Help! I’ve hurt my lower back!

Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek healthcare treatments of any kind. Sciatic pain is a specific type of lower back pain which causes intense radiating pain accompanied by numbness and tingling from the lower back to the buttocks and legs.

True sciatica is due to a pinched or irritated nerve when a spinal disc has moved from its normal position in the vertebral column putting pressure on the nerve. Alternatively, the sciatic nerve can be restricted by joint arthritis or spasm of the piriformis muscle in the buttocks. At its worst state, sciatic nerve compression can result in progressive weakness of the leg and bladder or bowel dysfunction and in some cases the condition requires surgery. I frequently see people who are unsatisfied with the level of pain relief they get with conventional medications or who are frustrated with the side effects of these medications.

How can Chinese Medicine help?

In Chinese Medicine, pain is indicative of a blockage or stagnation of qi in relevant channels. In the case of sciatic pain, this stagnation relates to the inability of nerve signals to operate optimally due to compression from spinal discs, joints or muscles. It is important to determine the root of the pain both physically and with regards to lifestyle factors such as sedentary work, stress, or injury and trauma. The goal of treatment is to redirect pain signals between the brain and nerves, improve blood flow, cease muscle spasm and to encourage cell regeneration and tissue repair.

Several tools of Chinese Medicine may be used to treat sciatic pain including acupuncture, cupping therapy, electroacupuncture, moxibustion, stretches and massage techniques. Some of the acupuncture points used are local to the area of pain and others are placed at distal points along the same channel pathway to relax muscles and tendons. An example of local needling would be a special group of points known as “huatuojiaji” which are located close to the borders of the spinous processes of the vertebrae. These points have a variety of actions but in the case of sciatica and lower back pain they help to mobile the joints and reduce pain. We also stimulate specific points which activate your body’s natural pain killing hormones and points which address underlying conditions relevant to your constitution and general health. Treatments are gentle and soothing and often result in fast pain relief, increased range of movement and structural and physiological changes.

How long does it take to see results?

An important aspect of recovery is regular and frequent treatments to achieve the best results. Treatment intensity and duration are slightly less important. The reason for regular and frequent treatments is due to the nervous system requirement for repeated stimulation of same or similar signals at each visit in order to create new pathways of pain perception and appropriate alignment. This concept can be likened to learning new information of any kind. When we need to learn a speech, for example, we rehearse it and practice it in our minds and with our voices until giving the speech becomes second nature. The nervous system also needs this kind of repetition and rehearsal to change its patterns of operation. As the pain subsides and the condition resolves, I encourage maintenance of your health by demonstrating stretches, gentle exercises and postural techniques to prevent the lower back and sciatic pain reoccurring.


In 2013, German researchers examined the outcomes and attitudes of incorporating acupuncture into standard rehabilitation treatments for 143 patients with chronic low back pain. The study revealed that acupuncture had a very high level of acceptance among patients (89%) and would have paid for Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment if necessary (83%). Those receiving the additional acupuncture treatments reported better physical functioning, vitality, general health and emotional state than those receiving standard rehabilitation only.

A systematic review of randomised controlled trials published in 2015 examined 16 studies on acupuncture for lower back pain and results showed that “for chronic LBP, evidence consistently demonstrated that acupuncture provides short-term clinically relevant benefits for pain relief and functional improvement compared with no treatment or acupuncture plus another conventional intervention.”

A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis examined the effectiveness of acupuncture for sciatica based on 12 studies with a total of 1842 participants. The results showed that acupuncture was more effective than conventional Western Medicine in clinical outcomes, pain intensity and pain threshold. Also in 2015, another systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed 11 studies on acupuncture for sciatica. The authors concluded that acupuncture may be more effective than non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications for the treatment of lower back pain and sciatica. They also note that this evidence was somewhat limited due to the quality of the included trails and small sample sizes.

The recent publication of the Acupuncture Evidence Project (a summary of research thus far) confirmed that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic lower back pain and has a potential positive effect for acute lower back pain and sciatica.

If you experience sciatica or lower back pain which interferes with your lifestyle, come in and see how Fusion Acupuncture & Natural Therapies may reduce your pain and improve your quality of life.


Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED.

Acupuncture for Low Back Pain: An Overview of Systematic Reviews

The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Treating Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Acupuncture for (sub)acute non-specific low-back pain

Acupuncture Evidence Project

Categories: Brisbane Acupuncture Blog | Pain Relief Brisbane | Sleep Centre Brisbane

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