Are You at Risk for Sciatica?

Leg pain comes from many possible causes, but there’s no mistaking the pain caused by sciatica. Many patients who come to iMed Regeneration Center seeking relief from sciatica often wonder if they could have prevented the problem.

One way to do that is to determine if you’re at risk. When you identify the lifestyle factors that contribute to sciatica, you can take steps to change those variables and lower your chances of developing sciatica.

What you need to know about sciatica

Sciatica refers to the symptoms that occur when the sciatic nerve is pinched by structures in your spine. The sciatic nerve — the longest and largest nerve in your body — leaves both sides of your lower spine, goes down through your buttocks, and continues to travel through both legs, going all the way down to your feet.

The hallmark symptom of sciatica is severe, electric-shock pain that radiates down one leg. The pain often strikes out of the blue, starting in your lower back and suddenly shooting through your leg, making it hard to walk or move. You may also feel sensations like tingling, burning, or numbness in your leg.

Risk factors for sciatica

The more factors you match, the higher your risk of sciatica. The good news is that all but one of the primary risk factors are changeable, which means you can reduce your overall chance of developing this painful condition.

Age

The longer you live, the more movement and stress your lower back endures. Additionally, the conditions that commonly pinch the sciatic nerve, such as a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease, develop due to natural age-related degeneration in your lower spine.

You can’t do anything about your age, of course. But you can still lower your risk of sciatica by maintaining a healthy body weight, staying active, and eating nutrient-rich meals.

Prolonged sitting

Sitting for a long time is one of the biggest risk factors for sciatica. When you sit, your body’s weight bears down on your lower back, leading to disc problems that pinch the sciatic nerve.

You can lower your risk by standing up, stretching, and taking a short walk every 20 minutes. Your break doesn’t need to be long; you just need to occasionally relieve that constant pressure.

Being overweight

Being overweight is a top risk factor for sciatica because your lower spine supports the full weight of your body. The sciatic nerve is perfectly positioned to bear the brunt of excess pressure as you gain weight. The more weight you gain, the more likely you are to end up with sciatica.

Bending, lifting, and twisting

Every time you bend, twist, or lift, you put pressure on the vertebrae in your lower spine. If you regularly lift heavy objects or engage in activities that involve excessive bending and twisting, your risk for sciatica increases.

Practicing good ergonomics when you lift or sit at your desk goes a long way toward reducing the strain on your lower spine. Here are two examples:

When lifting, keep your back straight and bend at your knees and hips. Never bend from the waist while keeping your knees straight and don’t twist while you lift the object.

When sitting in a chair, use support such as a round pillow at the curve of your back. Keep your hips and knees at a right angle, and keep your feet flat on the floor rather than crossing your legs.

Wearing non-supportive footwear

Chances are you don’t associate footwear with a pinched sciatic nerve. But the shoes you wear have a big impact on the alignment of your legs, knees, and hips, which in turn affects the load on the muscles and vertebrae in your lower back.

When you wear non-supportive shoes, such as high heels, shoes that aren’t cushioned, or shoes that don’t have arch support, every step you take sends excessive pressure up your legs and hips to your lower back, where it can trigger sciatica.

Carrying items in your back pocket

Men have always carried wallets in their back pockets, but now it’s common for everyone to tuck their smartphone into the same pocket. Every time you sit down with something in that pocket, the object puts pressure on the piriformis muscle in your buttocks.

The sciatic nerve runs under that muscle. As a result, the pressure from any object in your back pocket may damage the nerve and lead to sciatica.

We can identify your sciatica risks and help you develop a plan to prevent the problem. Or, if you already have sciatica, we offer many treatments to alleviate the pain. Call us at iMed Regeneration Center or book an appointment online today.

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