5 Factors That Put You More at Risk for Sciatica

Though sciatica begins at the bottom of your spine, the problem doesn’t stay in your back. Instead, it causes a sharp, electric-shock pain that shoots down one of your legs. Though the severity of pain varies from one patient to the next, most describe it as debilitating.

As specialists in sciatica, the team at Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates offers a variety of treatments to manage your symptoms. You can also take simple steps to help stop that sudden flare-up of pain that takes your breath away. 

Physical problems that cause sciatica

Understanding the physical causes of sciatica can help you anticipate and avoid things that could trigger a flare-up of pain. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed by conditions affecting your spine. The problem is most often caused by a herniated disc, but it can develop from many conditions, such as bone spurs, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and trauma.

Once the nerve is irritated and inflamed, symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness travel the full length of the nerve as it goes down through your buttocks and legs, and into your feet. Along the way, the nerve branches several times, providing the opportunity for pain to appear throughout your leg.

5 factors that could contribute to your sciatica

The following five factors significantly contribute to sciatica: 

Prolonged sitting

Sitting for an extended length of time is one of the factors most likely to cause the radiating pain of sciatica. When you sit, you place more weight on the discs in your lower back — the same discs that are responsible for compressing the sciatic nerve.

You can prevent sciatica by standing up and taking a short walk every 20 minutes. Walking also helps alleviate existing sciatica symptoms, so taking a walking break can prevent and relieve the pain.

When you go from sitting to standing, try not to bend at the waist. Slide to the front of your chair and stand by straightening your legs to keep pressure off the nerve.

Bending, twisting, and lifting

Activities like bending, twisting, and lifting (using improper techniques) put additional stress on the vertebrae compressing the sciatic nerve, further irritating your sciatica. As you go through the day, pay attention to your normal activities so you can identify the ones that affect your lower back.

Any activity that physically bends the spine or stretches the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine can lead to problems with sciatica. For example, digging in the garden for an extended time stresses your back muscles, making them tighten, pull on the vertebrae, and worsen the pressure on the nerve. 

Holding items in your back pocket

If you carry items in the rear pocket of your jeans or pants, like your wallet or cell phone, they place direct pressure on the piriformis muscle every time you sit down. The sciatic nerve runs under this muscle, so the items in your pocket can put enough stress on the nerve to cause sciatica. 

Non-supportive footwear

The types of shoes you wear can affect compression on your sciatic nerve. High-heeled shoes, for example, shift your body weight. As a result, you flex at the hips, which stresses the muscles and vertebrae in your lower back near the nerve. 

Shoes that don’t have cushioned insoles or that don’t provide adequate arch support can also trigger sciatica. This type of non-supportive footwear sends the impact of every step you take up your legs to your lower back. 

Being overweight

Your lower spine supports all the weight of your body. The more you weigh, the more pressure is placed on the vertebrae near the sciatic nerve. The nerve enters and exits between vertebrae at the base of your spine, where it’s perfectly positioned to bear the brunt of excess pressure that worsens nerve compression.

 Studies show that overweight and obesity increase your risk for sciatica in a dose-response relationship. In other words, your risk for sciatica increases in direct proportion to increases in your weight. 

If you need help alleviating the pain of sciatica, call Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates, or schedule an appointment online.

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