Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs For Sciatic Pain

May 2000

Sciatic pain is a common illness involving the lower back and legs. Pathologic changes include spinal degeneration, herniated disc, etc... which press the spinal cord or sciatic nerve and cause severe pain along the nerves down to the legs.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sciatic pain falls into the category of "pain in waist and leg" and "Bi Syndrome". In Chinese theory, it is caused mainly by the factors of wind, cold, dampness, sprain or contusion, leading to Qi and blood stagnation in the meridians or kidney deficiency. Compared to high-tech modern medicine, the conservative therapy of TCM for sciatic pain is still of considerable advantage. Clinical data shows that over 90% of sciatic patients can be treated non-surgically by acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

One study was presented by Dr. Wang (China). He used acupuncture with electronic therapeutic apparatus after gaining qi. The negative pole was linked to BL32 and the positive pole was connected to different points depending on the specific problems. The main points used were BL32 and G30. Other acupoints were B40, G34, B57 and B60. The needles were retained for 30 minutes and treatment was once a day for a total course of 10 treatments. Of 184 patients treated, 74 were cured, 48 effective, 33 improved and 29 ineffective, the total effective rate being 84%.

Another study was presented by Dr. Bang (China). He combined acupuncture with Chinese herbs to treat sciatic pain. The main acupoints were B52, B40, G34, B57, Liv3, and other points used were B25, SI3 and K4. He used the alternating lift-thrust-twist needling method. The selected herbs are those with properties to invigorate the blood and dissolve the stasis, dispel wind and open the meridian. Of 204 patients treated, 164 were cured, 29 effective, 9 improved, only 2 remain ineffective, with a total effective rate of 99 %. The above two studies support the finding that acupuncture and Chinese herbs combined had better clinical results than acupuncture alone. This is true not only for sciatic pain, but for many other diseases treated by TCM.

In my office, sciatic pain is one of the leading problems for which people seek help. The clinical observation again reveals the pattern that combination therapy is more effective. Chinese herbs not only markedly reduce the sciatic pain, but also cut the frequency for acupuncture treatment to 1-2 times a week. The acupoints are commonly along the bladder (B) and gall bladder (G) meridians. According to the symptoms, the different points will be selected. Points often used are B23, B25, B32, B52, Hau Tuo Jia Ji, G30, G31, G34, G39, B40, B57, B60, St36, K3 and Sp6.

The herbs selected may fall into three categories. First are those for invigorating the qi and blood circulation and removing the stasis. Those herbs include: Dang Gui, Dang Sheng, Cuan Niu Xi, Ru Xiang, Mo Yao, and Xuan Hu. Second are those for dispelling the wind, cold and dampness. Those herbs include: Fang Ji, Wei Ling Xian, Qiang Huo, Du Huo, Bai Zhu, Cang Zhu, Huang Bai, Huang Qin, Mi Ren, Zhe Xie. Last are those for tonifying the kidney and strengthening the lumbar and legs. Those herbs include: Chuan Duan, Sang Ji Sheng, Du Zhong, Sheng Di, Shu Di, Gou Ji, Gu Shui Bu, Ba Ji Tian, Nu Zheng Zi. The practitioner may select herbs from the above list to make individual formulas. or choose some classic formulas for individual use such as: "Sheng Tong Zhu Yu Tang", "Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang", "Shi Miao Wan", "Zhuo Gui Wan" and "Yiu Gui Wan".

Thus, TCM offers an important alternative to surgical treatment for patients with sciatic pain.