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Dry Needling for Sciatica

Dry Needling for Sciatica

The sciatic nerve is a long nerve that runs its course from the lower back and then separates on both sides posteriorly through the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet. Pressure on the nerve often manifests as Sciatica- pain or discomfort in the lower back that may extend to the toes (along the sciatic nerve’s course). Professionals tackle this problem through medications, surgery, or physical therapy after a thorough assessment of the condition. One treatment your physical therapist may recommend is dry needling in Okotoks.

This article will tell you all to know about dry needling for sciatica nerve pain. Kindly read along. 

Sciatica- Symptoms and Causes

The most common cause of sciatica is a slipped intervertebral disc or bone overgrowth at the lower back impinging on the nerve. Our spine comprises several connected bones- vertebrae with discs that separate and pad them. Sometimes, these discs slip out of place and come in contact with other structures such as the sciatic nerve. Abnormal bone overgrowth also known as bone spurs can also lead to sciatica.

Sciatica is more common in people who are elderly, obese, and lead a sedentary lifestyle. Jobs that require heavy lifting or sitting for prolonged periods can also increase the risk of sciatica. Medical conditions like diabetes also tend to make people susceptible to Sciatica.

The classical symptom people who have sciatica may describe is a ‘sharp pain that starts from the lower back and goes down to the feet’. Some may say that the pain feels like an electric shock. Sometimes, they complain that it gets worse when they sit for long periods. However, people can also experience numbness, tingling sensations, and weakness of the affected limb in severe cases. People may also report loss of bladder or bowel control when sciatica stays untreated for long.

What Is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling is similar to acupuncture in that professionals insert needles into body parts they call myofascial trigger points. The trigger points are tight areas that develop within muscles following injury or misuse and cause pain. A trigger point may be the source of your pain or pain from somewhere else in your body (referred pain). Experts believe inserting needles into these trigger points can loosen them, increase blood flow, and relieve pain.

Providers of dry needling therapy do not use any medication-containing needles and that’s why the technique is ‘dry’. Nonetheless, the needles stimulate the nerve fibers and release substances that halt the pain sensation and create a twitch response.

Dry needling therapy is a treatment technique used to treat trigger points (these are part of the muscles that are affected by trauma thereby causing restricted movements and muscle damage If not treated properly) and reduce pain.

Providers offer dry needling as an outpatient procedure in conjunction with other therapies including heat therapy, stretching, massage, and electrical nerve stimulation. The procedure sounds painful but you’re more likely to feel pain when your physical therapist massages the trigger points than when they insert the needles. The needles are very tiny and some people even say they don’t feel it going in.

Dry needling can treat several conditions like neck, back, hip, or knee pain, muscle spasms, strained muscles, migraines, and fibromyalgia. Next, let’s see how dry needling can help people with sciatica.

Is Dry Needling Effective for Sciatica?

Yes, dry needling is a popular treatment option among physical therapists who manage sciatica. Here are the proven benefits of dry needling for sciatica nerve pain: 

  • Reduces pain: When the therapist inserts needles into dry needling points for sciatica, it stimulates the nerve fibers, activates certain sensory pathways, and releases substances (endorphins) that halt the pain sensation. Many people will feel immediate relief during treatment. Others say long-term relief comes with several repeat sessions.
  • Improves limb mobility: Sciatica hinders normal limb motion as the pressure on the nerve makes walking, sitting, and standing unusually uncomfortable. When you get dry needling, it can help relieve this pressure and restore normal limb function. Dry needling also stimulates the nerves to improve normal muscle function- activation and control.
  • Accelerates the healing process: Sciatica from injury-related herniated intervertebral discs can take a while to resolve with some treatment methods but dry needling isn’t one of them. The needles help increase blood circulation in the affected body parts ensuring the delivery of much-needed oxygen and nutrients for a good healing process. Moreover, needling can activate the body’s anti-inflammatory response which also helps injury heal faster.
  • Lessens the need for surgery: Sometimes, people must go under the knife for sciatica although often as a last resort. With the help of professionals at Dynamic Physiotherapy, Okotoks, AB, you can avoid that need via dry needling. Most times, a combination of medical and physical therapy should do the trick.

 Dry Needling vs Acupuncture for Sciatica?

 If you had an option between dry needling and acupuncture, which would you choose? This section compares both therapies so you can make an informed decision. First, let’s discuss acupuncture briefly.

Acupuncture is an age-long Chinese practice that involves inserting hair-thin needles into specific acupoints on the body. The aim is to balance the flow of the ‘qi’ which promotes healing. As similar as this sounds to dry needling, they are distinct therapies. Remember reading that dry needling targets anatomic trigger points in muscles? These are not acupoints.  Moreover, the needles for acupuncture are tinier than those for dry needling.

One could say that dry needling is a more scientific approach to pain management. Why? Diagnosis of problems involves manual palpation of the muscles or the use of devices to detect trigger points. On the other hand, acupuncturists determine the problem via symptoms and assessment of the tongue and pulse patterns. Furthermore, acupuncture sessions typically last longer because they may involve other massage techniques while dry needling focuses on needle insertion.

The foremost advantage dry needling has over acupuncture for sciatica treatment is the immediate relief as practitioners target the specific muscle trigger points. However, acupuncture tends to help better with chronic pain from a condition like sciatica. People with sciatic nerve pain will get relief from fewer sessions of dry needling than acupuncture and that’s probably for the best as dry needling is a little more invasive than acupuncture. Moreover, dry needling carries a risk of injury to other structures around muscles such as nerves and tendons, acupuncture does not. 

So, which is best? Limited evidence suggests that a combination of both therapies provides better results. Our professionals at Dynamic Physiotherapy will thoroughly assess your condition and table your options with intricate details so you can choose right.

What Can You Expect When You Go for Dry Needling?

When you visit your physiotherapist, the first thing they will do is carefully assess your sciatic nerve pain by asking questions and examining the site of pain. Once they’re satisfied that you’re fit for the procedure, they will discuss the procedure with you in detail and answer any questions you have.

On the day of the procedure, you may need to change to a gown that allows your physio access to the affected parts. First, they will clean and sterilize the treatment area. The needles they use are disposable, sterile ones for single use with a surrounding plastic guide tube for insertion accuracy. Next, they’ll locate the trigger points and drive the needles in. The depth of needle insertion depends on the technique; the superficial technique only requires a few millimeters, just above the trigger point while the deep technique penetrates the trigger point.

Your physio may leave the needles in your body for up to 20 minutes and sometimes they push them in and out repeatedly. They often start with one or two needles and work their way up to 10-15 with multiple sessions.

One sign most people feel during treatment is muscle soreness or twitching which indicates a response to treatment.

Are There Any Side Effects To Dry Needling for Sciatica?

Yes, there are. Is dry needling good for sciatica? Absolutely. However, it has some side effects that you should know. These include:


Dry needling will ease your pain. However, the treatment comes with some pain which may last well into 48 hours after treatment. You should only feel mild pain that resolves with some massage. The major reason you feel pain when starting the treatment is because of the tight muscles. The pain lessens when the muscles loosen up.

Bruising or Bleeding at the Insertion Site

Some people will not experience this but some bleeding during treatment is possible. Skin type and sensitivity play a huge role in bruising or bleeding. Other contributors include medical conditions like blood vessel malformations or the use of blood thinning drugs.

Skin Reaction

Sometimes, skin sensitivity may not lead to bruising or bleeding. Rather, it’ll cause redness and itching at the site of needle insertion. Here’s why you need to discuss your medical history with your physio so they can make informed decisions on your treatment.

Final Thoughts

Dry needling is an effective management option for sciatica. Consult licensed professionals around you for quality Okotoks physiotherapy so you can get the appropriate results.

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