Does Dry Needling Help Sciatica?

Dry needling is a fairly new and novel treatment intervention and therefore it gets a lot of questions about when it should be used. In today’s blog post we’re going to answer the question, does dry needling help sciatica?

What is the Root Cause of Sciatica

There are many reasons for someone to experience sciatica nerve pain. For example, a herniated disc or bulging disc could lead to a pinched sciatic nerve. Or, severe degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis may be the cause. Furthermore, a tight piriformis muscle could be what’s causing sciatica pain. Dry needling will NOT help sciatica if a herniated disc, bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis are, in fact, the root cause of your sciatica nerve pain.


Herniated Discs and Bulging Discs Causing Sciatica

From our experience, most people who have sciatica will be told their problem is due to a herniated or bulging disc. However, we have found this isn't always the case. In other words, just because someone has a herniated or bulging disc does NOT mean it’s the cause of sciatica. More specifically, well-known scientific research (see below) has proven many people who are pain-free have herniated or bulging discs. In fact, many people who we help get rid of sciatica have been told they have a herniated or bulging disc. 

Outside of the MRI, there are some simple movement tests we can perform that should cause sciatica if a bulging or herniated disc is to blame. 


Degenerative Disc Disease Causing Sciatica

Degenerative disc disease occurs when the discs between the vertebrae lose their height. This can become a problem because the sciatic nerve must exit through a tunnel in the spine that loses it’s height when the discs are smaller (i.e. a smaller tunnel for the nerve to go through). Therefore, severe degenerative disc disease can pinch the sciatic nerve, causing sciatica.

If this is the root cause of sciatica you should feel more pain when moving your spine into extension (i.e. bending backward). 


Note: The literature also proves many people with degenerative disc disease report NO pain. Please don’t just assume that because you have degenerative disc disease AND sciatica that the problem is a result of the disc disease. Pain is not that simple even though the internet will lead you to believe it is.

Degenerative disc disease should cause symptoms into BOTH legs, not just one.

Spinal Stenosis Causing Sciatica

Similar to degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis occurs when there is narrowing of the spine. Essentially, the tunnel where the nerves exit the spine becomes smaller, thus pinching the sciatic nerve. 

Spinal stenosis should cause symptoms into BOTH legs, not just one.

Piriformis Syndrome

If the piriformis muscle is the cause of the sciatica pain we should be able to elicit the pain when we press on the piriformis muscle. The hip flexibility will also be limited in rotation, as this muscle is a hip rotator. 

This is better known as piriformis syndrome and sciatica pain can respond positively to dry needling.

Fixing Sciatica Long-Term Without Surgery or Pain Meds

Fixing sciatica is likely a combination of treating the spine and/or hip. From our experience, many people with sciatica will be limited in spinal extension and hip rotation. Other’s will present with balance deficits which can lead to a tight piriformis muscle. A full body evaluation should always take place when sciatica is present. As stated above, just because someone has a herniated or bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis does NOT mean they are the cause of pain. 

Dry needling is a great tool and technique for pain relief. However, fixing the movement problems should always be used in conjunction with dry needling which is something our physical therapy clinic in Durham, NC specializes in.

Medical Disclaimer:

All information on this website is intended for instruction and informational purposes only. The authors are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your injury. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied on this website.