Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks








Pinched Nerve at S1
(1st Sacral Vertebra)
By Brian Benjamin Carter, MSci, LAc

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine. He teaches at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and maintains a private acupuncture and herbal practice in San Diego, California, and is the author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.

I have read several of your articles on acupuncture. I am currently suffering from a pinched nerve in the S1 area of the lower back due to bulging of that disc. I am on several pain meds and anti-inflammatory. I am in a therapy situation as well, but not much progress there so far. Do you think acupuncture would help me ? Thanks.

What kind of "therapy situation"?
How did this happen?
Does the anti-inflammatory help?


I am doing stretching exercises at home and stretching exercises in the the pool 3 times a week under the direction of a physical therapist. I felt it when I twisted wrong. Don't know how long the problem has been there prior, if at all. I am not sure about the anti-inflam… I still feel a tightness in my left calf and in my left hip area I feel pain. Thanks.

It is quite possible that acupuncture could help you. Although it can't move the bulging disc, it can release muscle spasms and relieve pain. Most NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) endanger your health by wearing away your stomach lining. This can lead to something as simple as an ulcer, or as dramatic as a sudden bleed out. The latter, believe it or not, can kill you before you even know you need to call 911.

Plus, acupuncture can produce systemic nervous system changes that may indirectly improve the condition. Acupuncture regulates the nervous system and prevents chronic pain syndromes. For more about how acupuncture works, read my acupuncture research summary.

Is It Really S1?

You may want to get a second opinion on your diagnosis, unless it's based on firm MRI or CT evidence, because an S1 nerve root lesion would produce pain on the outside of the foot and 2 smallest toes, and affect the ankle reflex… whereas hip and calf pain would be more likely caused by L1 (hip), and L4,5, or S2 (calf). Of course, there could be other causes for those symptoms, and only a thorough one on one examination can tell.

Where the Acupuncturist Will Needle

Your acupuncturist may needle points at the level of the disc problem, plus points distant from that site ( "My pain is here! Why'd you needle there?"). Ideally, they will partner with you, and use the information (medical records) already gathered by your MD and/or chiropractor - and in this situation I would advise seeing a chiropractor.

Knowing if Acupuncture Will Work Ahead of Time (Prognosis)

I often get questions about whether acupuncture can help this or that, and many times the answer is 'possibly.' It really is a matter of finding an acupuncturist and partnering with them for a Chinese medicine evaluation and a course of treatments (usually 8 to 10). Medicine is a practice, and practice is a process. Prognosis (knowing whether a disease will be cured, how much, and when) is the most difficult task in medicine. More is revealed to the practitioner each time they work with you.

I wish it were more black and white, but I don't think that's the way life or medicine is, and if I acted like it were, I could be wrong, and would be guilty of dishonesty. The real decision is whether or not to partner with an acupuncturist, and I think that's definitely a good idea. Whether you will get the results you want or not is impossible to know ahead of time.

What if Acupuncture Doesn't Work?

Moreover, if after 8 treatments you have NO results, it does not always mean that acupuncture won't help you, but that another approach may be better. Not all acupuncturists practice the same styles, and many acupuncturist know several different styles and treatment strategies.

Interviewing the Acupuncturist

That said, there is no way to find out what they practice or who has experience with your condition without calling them up. Call a few, and ask them if they've treated your condition or a similar one, and if they've been able to improve such conditions. You can find acupuncturists here.

All the best!

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About The PULSE
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.

Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International, Brian Carter, MSci, LAc, Editor