Acupuncture may offer short-term benefits for leg pain associated with chronic discogenic sciatica, according to study results published in Pain Medicine.

A total of 46 participants with chronic sciatica caused by lumbar disk herniation were randomly assigned 1:1 to receive acupuncture or sham acupuncture. After a 1-week baseline assessment period, participants underwent 4 weeks of treatment and were followed for another 24 weeks. Treatment consisted of 12 sessions of acupuncture at the same traditional acupoints.

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The primary outcome was change from baseline in weekly mean leg pain assessed with the visual analog scale (VAS) during the 4-week treatment period. Secondary outcomes included the change from baseline in mean VAS scores for leg pain, VAS scores for low back pain, Oswestry Disability Index scores, and 36-Item Short Form Health Survey scores.

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During the 4-week treatment period, the between-group difference in weekly mean leg pain was −7.28 mm (95% CI, −13.76 to −0.80; P =.029), which is greater than what was defined as a minimally clinically important difference (ie, 5 mm).

No between-group differences in mean VAS scores were recorded for low back pain and Oswestry Disability Index scores, and 36-Item Short Form Health Survey scores were not found to be significant during the study period (P >.05 for all).

Acupuncture-related adverse events were reported by 2 participants (4.3%), who experienced subcutaneous hematoma that was mild and transient.

Study limitations include a small sample and the lack of long-term assessment. In addition, the researchers noted that future studies should enroll patients who are not optimistic about acupuncture to measure how patient expectations affect pain relief.

“Further studies with larger sample sizes, longer treatment periods, and a longer-term follow-up period need to be conducted to verify these results,” noted the researchers.


Huang Z, Liu S, Zhou J, et al. Efficacy and safety of acupuncture for chronic discogenic sciatica, a randomized controlled sham acupuncture trial [published online August 1, 2019]. Pain Med. doi:10.1093/pm/pnz167

This article originally appeared on Clinical Pain Advisor