Dry Needling for Sciatica: Pros vs Cons (Is It Worth Trying?)

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dry needling for sciatica

kariefore we answer any of your burning questions around Dry Needling as a treatment for sciatica, it is important to understand what dry needling and sciatica are so that you can be fully educated on your options.

Sciatica is numbness, tingling and/or pain that is due to irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It exits your spinal cord in your lower back and travels out toward your hip and then down the back of your leg to your foot.

sciatic nerve

There is a sciatic nerve on both sides of your body and either one or both can be affected. The nerve can be irritated or inflamed for many reasons including a herniated disc or piriformis syndrome. Sciatic pain can last a couple days or a couple weeks and the pain can vary from mild to intense. All factors considered, sciatica can have a large impact on a person’s life and they will try to seek answers and treatments to make it go away.

Dry needling is a treatment where tiny needles are inserted into a muscle, but they do not inject anything so it is considered dry.

dry needling

The needles are put through the skin into myofascial trigger points throughout the affected area. The needles elicit a pain response from the tissues and aides in relaxing the muscle. This will decrease or eliminate the pain.

Dry needling is an intervention that is generally completed by physical therapists and is usually covered by insurance.

Can Dry Needling help Sciatica?

The simple answer is yes! Physical therapists will use the super thin needles and insert them in trigger points along three main muscles that impact sciatica: piriformis, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

The physical therapist will manipulate the needle to get a relaxing reaction out of the muscle which decreases the strain on the sciatic nerve, and thus, decreases sciatic pain. There is also a secondary benefit which is increased blood flow to the area which allows for faster healing from any injury that was the cause of the sciatica.

How Long Does It Take to See Results From Dry Needling?

Decreased pain should be felt during the session as well as over the coming days as the secondary benefits take place. There might be a bit of pain at the insertion site of the needles, but that is minimal compared to the pain the person is likely feeling prior to the treatment.

Read Related: Best Acupressure Mats for Sciatica, Lower Back Pain & Neck Pain

Can Dry Needling Make Sciatica Worse?

There are risks related to dry needling, but they are very minimal and very uncommon. That being said, if you were to experience a side effect of dry needling, it could increase your sciatic pain, but again, this would be very uncommon.

Can You Hit a Nerve While Dry Needling?

Yes there is a chance that this could happen, but it is very uncommon. Going to a physical therapist, most of whom have a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree and/or years and years of experience means you will be in great hands. In order for physical therapists to do dry needling treatments, they have to go through continuing education classes to be certified and maintain their certification. Because of this, the risks are even more minimal that you could have an adverse reaction to dry needling.

Pros of Dry Needling

- Decreased reliance on pain medication that might be prescribed to treat sciatica

- Improved mobility with less pain

- Cost effective: most insurance plans will cover dry needling

- Administered by a physical therapist who can use other treatments in conjunction with your dry needling treatment

- Immediate pain relief

Cons of Dry Needling

- Possible pain after needles are inserted: The actual insertion is generally not painful, but sometimes once the needle is in the trigger point, the person might feel a deep cramping sensation that lasts a short period of time

- Possible pain after the treatment, but usually quite minimal

- Possible bleeding after the treatment, but usually quite minimal

Is Dry Needling or Acupuncture better for Sciatica?

It depends on what your ultimate goal would be. If you’re looking for pain reduction and immediate relief and you’re willing to have possible uncomfortable sensations in the process, then dry needling is for you.

If you’re looking for more relaxation and want to avoid pain during the treatment, then acupuncture is for you. The other difference between the treatments is the rationale that they are based in.

Acupuncture is based on the "qi" Eastern medicine principles of energy and flow. A foundation of those principles is that the person receiving the treatment must be accepting of this type of energy and healing.

Dry needling is more based in musculoskeletal science. Neither of those differences make one better than the other, it means that the person receiving the treatment needs to understand the rationale of the treatments they are receiving.

Sciatica is a painful, annoying and limiting condition that affects many people. Dry needling is a great treatment option for this condition because it provides immediate relief with minimal side effects.

If you think this is a treatment you would like to try, reach out to your primary care provider or physical therapist to schedule a treatment session. It is definitely worth trying!

Read Related Article: Acupuncture vs Dry Needling - Top 10 Questions Answered

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