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Alternative Treatments for Sciatica: Acupuncture, Acupressure, Biofeedback, and Yoga

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Your doctor's treatment plan for sciatica may include alternative treatments such as acupuncture or acupressure, biofeedback, and yoga. Many patients have reported that alternative treatments have really helped.

You may want to try:

Acupuncture: Practitioners believe your body has an energy force called Qi or Chi (pronounced "chee"). They think that when Chi is blocked, you can develop physical illness. Both acupuncture and acupressure (see below) work to restore a healthy, energetic flow of Chi. (These Eastern approaches to healing are different from Western scientific concepts. That doesn't make them better or worse; it just makes them different.)

Acupuncturists insert very fine needles (sterilized and disposable) into precise points on the body. The points are called meridians. Each meridian is the same as a channel, acupoint, or acupuncture point. Because meridians run close to the skin's surface, it is not necessary to insert needles deep into tissue. Meridians correspond to specific parts of the body, or a body system such as the nervous, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, or lymphatic system. During an acupuncture treatment, the practitioner may gently twirl or heat some or all the needles.

Is acupuncture uncomfortable? No. Even patients who are averse to needles find acupuncture to be a painless and relaxing experience. If you want to pursue acupuncture treatment, look for a licensed practitioner who uses sterile equipment.

Acupressure:  A close cousin to acupuncture is acupressure. Acupressure is a non-invasive, safe, and gentle therapy. It unblocks Qi without using needles. The acupressure practitioner uses his or her thumbs, fingers, and elbows to place a precise amount of pressure to specific body points. Acupressure therapy includes the application of consistent pressure to one or more points and briskly rubbing the acupressure point to stimulate it.

Acupressure points and acupuncture points are identical.

Biofeedback: This is more than telling your body, "Stop feeling pain." Biofeedback is a mind-body therapy that teaches you how to change, or control a habitual reaction to pain or stress.

Can I simply "think my pain away" with biofeedback? No, it's not that easy—more is involved. Biofeedback often requires intensive patient participation and is not for everyone. Some experts view biofeedback as a controversial therapy because it's used to treat low back pain has not been adequately researched. Despite this view, many patients have benefited from biofeedback.

Biofeedback includes the use of special equipment to measure and provide "feedback" to the patient about his or her physiological reactions to certain stimuli such as stress and muscle tension. By teaching the patient deep breathing techniques, visualization, and mental and physical exercises, the patient learns how to control his or her reaction to stressn—in this case, muscle tension that may contribute to sciatica.

Yoga: Yoga stretches may lessen sciatica when the cause is piriformis syndrome (sometimes a controversial diagnosis). Piriformis syndrome involves the piriformis muscle found in the lower part of the spine. This muscle aids hip rotation. Gently stretching this muscle may help reduce sciatic pain. However, certain yoga stretches do not benefit sciatica. Poses such as forward folds and twisting can irritate sciatic nerve pain. Any exercise that involves stretching the back of the legs (hamstrings) can irritate sciatica. As with any exercise, the patient must remember not to push their body beyond pain limits. Respect your body, and remember: Gently stretch!

As part of your treatment plan, you may want to try other sciatica treatments.  SpineUniverse offers in-depth articles on all sciatica treatment options, so to help your research process, you may want to read:

Will Alternative Treatments Help Treat Sciatica?
There is no one right to that question:  some alternative treatments may help you, but they may not provide sciatic pain relief to another patient.  If you are interested in trying alternative treatments to address your sciatica, discuss the options with your doctor.  He or she may even have recommendations for practitioners.

Updated on: 12/19/12
Santhosh A. Thomas, DO, MBA
This article was reviewed by Santhosh A. Thomas, DO.
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