Up to this point in time, I have been writing lengthy blog posts about different topics from neck pain to foot pain. These were topics that would help you, the reader, figure out how to diagnose yourself and how to self treat. Over the course of the next few blog posts, I am going to step away from those type of posts and start telling some short stories or case studies about various patients I have treated over the course of the last few months. These stories will give a quick background into that person’s life, (don’t worry, they will remain anonymous) what led them to my care and then what was done about their problem. SPOILER ALERT: Most, if not all, positive outcomes were a result of dry needling.
Sciatica Pain Relief
Several weeks ago, I began treating a patient who was referred to me for “Piriformis Syndrome.” This is nothing more than a diagnosis that suggests that someone has a Piriformis muscle so tight, that it is putting direct pressure on the Sciatic Nerve and consequently causing Sciatica.
This patient worked for a local chicken factory. There, his job was to pick up live chickens and move them to a different location. One day, he bent over, picked up a few chickens and then stood up while twisting. BOOM! He felt his back seize up. As the day progressed, the pain got worse and worse and with it came right leg pain that radiated all the way down to his foot. The pain would continue to get worse and ultimately cause him to change jobs to a less physically demanding job. But that didn’t stop the pain.
Over the course of the next year, he would receive injections which would help temporarily but the pain would return within a month’s time. He did physical therapy (the traditional kind) and never felt much of a change either. By the time he was referred to me, it had been two years since the initial injury. His symptoms were beginning to get worse and he was very frustrated.
When I did my examination on this patient, he did seem to fit the description on the script. He had extremely tender muscles in the hip with radiating pain that went down his leg. At the time, you could push on those muscles and it would increase symptoms slightly. I felt like the diagnosis was a good one so I began by treating the hip musculature, including the Piriformis, with dry needling. No progress. For the next two visits, I would treat the hip and hamstrings with little to no change in symptoms.
Due to the patient and therapist frustration with the lack of progress seen with treatment, I turned to some recent research that came out. You can read more about it here. In short, it was a study that showed that people with herniated discs benefited from 20 minutes of dry needling in the low back and various spots in their hips. While there was no official diagnosis of disc herniation, some of the nerves that contribute to the sciatic nerve come from that area. So I started with the back and sunk needles into both sides of L1-5. Twenty minutes later, I took the needles out, gave some gentle massage and sent him on his way home. A week later he came back and casually told me that he had ABSOLUTELY NO PAIN. His back felt “stretched out” and he was able to transition from sit to stand without all the pain and discomfort he had grown accustomed to over the last two years. 10 needles, 20 minutes, that was it. In my short 7 years of treating patients, I have to say, this was one of the most dramatic changes in symptoms I have ever witnessed.
While it would be a huge mistake to suggest that everyone dealing with Sciatica would benefit from just 20 minutes of dry needling, it is worth the consideration. This patient’s symptoms were completely cleared up in an entirely different location than initially suspected. Dry needling for low back pain or sciatica can be a powerful and conservative tool that can have a profound impact on your symptoms. If staying away from medication, injections or surgery are on the top of your priority list, you should seriously give dry needling consideration.