Most of us are familiar with acupuncture as a practice of inserting needles into specific points on the body identified by Chinese medicine. This practice dates back over two thousand years and is a very intricate therapy with over 2000 identified points on the body. When it comes to sciatica pain relief you want to find the most effective treatment that will naturally heal the body without the need for drugs or surgery and that is the motivation behind acupuncture for sciatica.
Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Sciatica
Acupuncture has been recognized by the National Institute of Health and the US FDA as an effective therapy in relieving back pain, including sciatica. It works in Chinese theory to achieve and maintain well-being through the open flow of energy via specific pathways in the body called meridians. Acupuncture needles open blocked pathways and with this open flow of energy the body’s balance is restored and healing will begin to take place where energy was once interrupted or blocked.
Intramuscular Stimulation is a Modified form of Acupuncture for Sciatica
In traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture works on the energy flow which is called Chi (sometimes spelt Qi) it is a means to relax muscles in one way but when one doctor saw a need to address muscle shortening, guarding and spasms in patients with back and nerve pain he tried using acupuncture needles to target these stressed out muscles. Dr. Chen Gunn practiced what he called Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) that is different from acupuncture in that the needle is inserted into the shortened muscle causing it to quickly contract and relax.
IMS for Sciatica Pain Relief
Intramuscular stimulation is not practiced by a registered acupuncturist it is only provided by physicians and physiotherapists that have training in the GunnIMS program. When a physiotherapist trained in this IMS modality works on a patient seeking sciatica pain relief they will use it to relax guarding muscles in the back, buttocks, thigh, and leg. Guarding is a natural defense mechanism by muscles to protect an injured area from movement that would further damage the sensitive area. However, continuous guarding and shortening over the long-term starts to make the condition worse. That is why both traditional Chinese acupuncture and IMS are used to encourage muscle relaxation.
Much like going to a massage therapist to work on knotted or tight muscles, Intramuscular Stimulation works on these muscles to relax them but at a deeper level with longer lasting results. Another difference with IMS and acupuncture is that IMS will indeed hurt. If the muscle is healthy and relaxed you will not feel the needle going in but if the muscle is tight and unhealthy when the needle goes into its center it will cause a very quick spasm or cramp sensation that is gone the instant the muscle relaxes. The patient has instant gratification at the effectiveness this treatment has at relaxing their muscles however they may have a minor dull soreness for a few hours after the treatment. With effective relaxation of tight muscles around the lumbar spine other treatments like manual and mechanical traction can be effective to stretch the spine in order to restore the intervertebral disc back into place.
The Traditional Chinese Acupuncture for Sciatica
Chinese medicine teaches that energy channels are connected to different internal organs and that there are twelve such major organs and subsequently twelve energy channels (Meridians). When using Acupuncture for Sciatica they are going to focus on a channel that is connected to the health of the spine. Every channel has a yin and yang which means they are always in opposition to each other and if one is stronger or weaker than the other then either the yin is too strong or too weak or the yang is too weak or too strong and this balance then needs to be restored by either strengthening or weakening one or the other.
The major interrupted energy channel causing the symptoms of sciatica is a blocked back meridian causing blood stagnation in the spine. Deeper yet to this is the underlying block in other areas that cased the stagnation in the back channel in the first place. This underlying chi channel could either be the kidney Chi, the liver chi, or the spleen chi. The acupuncturist will assess your symptoms to determine which channel is blocked and then place needles into the appropriate points to re-establish the balanced flow of energy to these areas. Once the needles are in place they are typically left in for 20 to 30 minutes to allow time for healing.