By Brent Wells, DC
Sciatica is a chronic condition that most commonly comes from narrowing of the spine, bone spurs, or a herniated disk. Although sciatica can be painful, it usually resolves on its own after a few weeks, although over time, it may return. From sitting too much to wearing heels, a variety of otherwise common activities are often the culprits of recurring sciatica pain. In this article, we will explore the symptoms, causes, most common ways you may be triggering your sciatica, and what you can do to finally find consistent relief.
Below are symptoms that are often associated with sciatica:
- Pain from your lower back/spine into your butt and down the leg
- Mild aching to sharp, burning pain in the affected area
- Pain is worse when you sneeze or cough
- Muscle weakness
- Pain, generally on one side of the body
Pain is most commonly felt in the lower back and butt, and for some people, down one or both legs. The severity of sciatica pain can very widely: it can simply feel like a dull ache or it can cause intense shooting pains that are almost unbearable.
Sciatica is a chronic condition that can have a variety of causes, most commonly bone spurs, herniated disks, and pinched nerves. In very rare cases the pain is linked to diabetes and tumors in the affected area.
People who are older, are obese, sit for long periods of time, have diabetes, or jobs that require heavy lifting and bending throughout the day are more likely to develop sciatica during their lifetime. It is estimated that around 40% of people will experience sciatica during their lifetime.
Surprising Ways You May Trigger Your Sciatica
High Heels and Uncomfortable Shoes
Fans of fancy footwear: if you have sciatica and just cannot seem to shake the pain, your high heels may be causing your discomfort. High heels change your distribution of weight, putting pressure on the front of your foot and causing you to push your hips forward.
When you walk or stand too long with your pelvis pushed forward like this, it puts stress on your hamstrings, stretching them. Since the sciatic nerve is located by the hamstrings, this constant stretching and pressure can do a lot of damage to your sciatic nerve.
Uncomfortable and un-cushioned shoes can also be hard on your feet and your hamstrings. At minimum, try to wear shoes with support built in them, avoiding heels and non-supportive shoes like flip-flops. There are also shoe inserts you can purchase that are designed specifically for people with sciatica.
Carrying Items in Your Back Pockets
If you find yourself always carrying your phone, wallet, or other bulky and heavy items in your back pockets, you could be unknowingly triggering your sciatica. Although this is not an officially recognized cause of sciatica, many people who suffer from this condition have coined their own terms such as “back-pocket sciatica” and “cell phone sciatica.”
When you sit down with items in your back pocket, they can put unnecessary pressure on your piriformis muscle, which is located right by your sciatic nerve. Imagine you have a full wallet in one pocket:
Do you often wear tight and form-fitting pants, skirts, or shorts? Believe it or not, this could lead to unwanted sciatica pain. Overly tight bottoms put a lot of pressure on your hips, butt, legs, and sometimes even your lower back and spine. This constant compression in these areas puts pressure on the sciatic nerve and surrounding areas, triggering pain and discomfort. You don’t have to change your entire wardrobe! Just make sure nothing is so tight that it’s digging into you or causing you pain.
Sitting Too Much
Sitting too much can also trigger or worsen sciatica pain. Sitting is another activity that puts a lot of pressure on your glute muscles, lower back, and your sciatic nerve. Moving around gives your sciatic nerve a break, a chance to stretch and allow blood to flow to the area. If you work a desk job, you can try a standing desk, take a short walk around the office every hour, or dedicate part of your lunch break to a stroll by yourself or with a coworker. Even inside the office, you can spend a few minutes doing leg and back stretches to get that blood flowing and to stretch out tight areas in your lower body.
Being Overweight and Inactive
If you are overweight and/or don’t get enough exercise, recurring sciatica pain is all too common. Extra weight, especially in the mid-section, puts pressure and strain on the pelvis and the lower back.
Lack of exercise and physical activity also make sciatica pain worse in the long run. If you do not move around and never give your body a chance to get stronger and more flexible, you are doing yourself a serious disservice.
Coming up with an exercise routine, losing a few pounds, and incorporating stretching into your weekly routine can ease up pain and trigger your sciatica less.
When it comes to managing your sciatica and doing things that will stop triggering your pain, it takes some trial and error to see what works for you. Trying out the above options are a great starting point when you have tried other remedies, and nothing has worked.
If you still find your sciatica is triggering too much and are unsure of the cause, a trip to a chiropractor specializing in sciatica, massage therapist, or other medical professionals may be the way to go.
About Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, DC, has been a chiropractor for over 20 years and has treated thousands of patients. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.