Sciatica Case History
Dr Nathan Burns (Acupuncture)
A 34-year-old male came to the clinic complaining of
constant and severe sciatica symptoms. These occurred down the back of his
right leg, with aching, numbness and tingling being felt at all times of the
day and night. He was taking anti- inflammatory medication every few hours with
He had been to see an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended a
CT scan to figure out the cause. The scan showed a severe vertebral disc
rupture at the level of L5/ S1 of the lumbar spine. The surgeon recommended a
spinal fusion at L5 S1 and told the client that this was his only real option
to be pain free and without the symptoms of sciatica.
The client decided to try other avenues before committing to
surgery. The first of these was cortisone injections directly into the damaged
spinal area. This had little effect on the client’s symptoms, which for him was
Next, he tried around ten visits to a chiropractor. The
chiropractor used spinal manipulation to try and fix the problem. This again
had little lasting positive effect. And on occasion exacerbated the symptoms.
Physio was next, and whilst the client improved his core
strength (and this would prove to be beneficial in the future), the actual
symptoms of sciatica were not relieved.
As a last resort a friend recommended that he come to my
clinic, as this friend had experienced relief form his own sciatic symptoms
through my treatment.
The client arrived on a Saturday morning and told me his
story. We went through his history and scan reports, and discussed what the
surgeon had said to him, and how if this treatment didn’t work then he was
going in for surgery.
It is important to note that whilst spinal fusion surgery
may relieve the symptoms of sciatica, it also restricts the flexibility of the
spine. At the time the client was studying and also working as a manual
I explained to the client that my treatment usually takes
three visits to have a strong effect. This is because sciatica due to a bulging
disc, especially if long term, causes the deep muscles of the spine to go into
a state of almost constant spasm.
It is vital that
these muscles are relaxed as this allows the space between the effected
vertebrae to open up. When this space opens, the pressure on the disc is
reduced, and this is usually enough that it no longer pushes on the sciatic
nerve spinal root (Figure 1).
I utilise targeted needling in concert with
electro-acupuncture theory to effect targeted muscle relaxation and relief. The
treatment involves two needles placed strategically with a small electric
current being passed between them
The electric current relaxes the deep tight muscles, and
this in turn allows the larger superficial muscles of the back to relax as
After the first treatment the client didn’t notice much
change, although disappointed, he came back the following week and we repeated
the treatment. This time he experiences a change in his lower back pain, for the
first couple of days it felt a bit “weird and achy”. This is the sign that the
deep muscles are starting to relax.
The following week he told me his sciatica had reduced to
only occasional symptoms, usually after a long day on the pick and shovel. The
pain in his back had localised to the direst site of the original injury (ie L5
After four treatments in four weeks the client no longer
felt any back pain and only occasional sciatic “twinges” if he sat for too long
or lifted something without bending his knees. We then planned for a treatment
every two weeks for a month. When it was clear that his symptoms were almost
fully relieved, a maintenance course of treatments was undertaken at 4–6-week
I am pleased to report that the client has since taken up
long distance running and has completed 4 marathons successfully. He still
comes every six weeks for a check-up and maintenance treatment, and surgery is
nowhere on the horizon for him.
Overall, the client is extremely happy with the outcome, as I
have provided a meaningful, long term and drug free solution to his problem.
Acupuncture is a powerful modality that should be considered for many difficult health conditions.
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