Sciatica Research: A Meta-Analysis

Sciatica is a syndrome that refers to pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which goes from your lower back into your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body. Sciatica has been reported to occur in 1 to 10% of the population, most commonly in people age 25 to 45 years.

Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. This causes inflammation, pain and often some numbness in the affected leg. Pain can range from mild to intense. Many people seek acupuncture for relief from sciatic pain, yet, the  research on acupuncture and sciatica has been equivocal.

A new study was published that provides a systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture’s efficacy and safety for sciatica (Ji et al., 2015). The authors conducted comprehensive searches of 8 databases through April 2015. Outcomes included effectiveness, pain intensity, and pain threshold. Effect sizes were presented as risk ratio (RR) and mean difference (MD). Pooled effect sizes were calculated by fixed effects or random effects model.Twelve studies with a cumulative 1842 participants were included.  The mean age of participants ranged between 18 and 77 years and the amount of time with sciatica ranged from 4 days to 18 years.

Results revealed that acupuncture was more effective than conventional Western medicine in effectiveness (RR 1.21, 95% CI: 1.16–1.25), pain intensity (MD −1.25, 95% CI:−1.63 to −0.86), and pain threshold (MD: 1.08, 95% CI: 0.98–1.17). The reported adverse effects were acceptable. The authors cited some limitation of the study including “All selected trials demonstrated randomization; however, the processes of randomization and allocation concealment were not adequately described and blinding of patients and assessors was seldom mentioned.”

To read the full publication: 2015AcupunctureSciatica

Citation:  Ji, M., Wang, X., Chen, M., Shen, Y., Zhang, X., & Yang, J. (2015). The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Sciatica: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2015.