Your sciatic nerve has five nerve roots on either side of your lower spine: Two on each side of your lumbar spine, and three on each side of your sacrum. These nerve roots join to form sciatic nerve branches on your right and left sides that run through each hip, extend down each leg, and reach into the sole of each foot.
Your sciatic nerve allows you to sense and control your lower body. If sciatic nerve pain — also known as sciatica — has ever stopped you in your tracks, you’re in good company. Some two in five adults (40%) in the United States develop sciatica at some point in life.
As board-certified orthopedists who specialize in providing long-term sciatica relief, our skilled team at Orthopedic Center of Palm Beach County wants you to know that this common pain condition is significantly influenced by your lifestyle, and as such, there’s a lot you can do to alleviate the problem and prevent its recurrence.
Sciatic nerve pain develops when something compresses or irritates one of the sciatic nerve roots in your spine. The most common cause of sciatic nerve root inflammation? A herniated spinal disc. Other possible causes include:
While sciatic nerve root sensitivity can begin as general lower back discomfort, it tends to progress into full-blown sciatica quickly, causing deep pain, mild burning sensations, or sharp, electric-like jolts that radiate through your hip and down the back of your leg.
A myriad of factors can contribute to the development of these sciatica-inducing problems, or aggravate existing sciatic nerve pain. While certain factors are outside of your control — like normal age-related degenerative changes or having a previous injury — others are manageable, including:
It probably comes as no surprise, then, that the very lifestyle factors that can prompt or worsen sciatica can also alleviate the problem when properly addressed. For most people, the following lifestyle changes can go a long way in minimizing sciatica pain.
Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for sciatica. Why? Excess weight places more pressure on your spine, increasing the likelihood of disc herniation and sciatic nerve root irritation. This is especially true if you carry more weight in your midsection, which makes the muscles in your back work harder to keep your spine vertical.
In addition to working toward a healthier weight — losing just 10% of your total weight can take a significant amount of pressure off your spine — it’s helpful to build a stronger core (the inner scaffold of supportive abdominal and back muscles).
Whereas the spine in your upper back has your ribcage for extra support, your core muscles are the only thing supporting your lumbar spine.
A sedentary lifestyle can set the stage for sciatica, especially as your aging body starts to develop normal wear-and-tear changes. Sciatica symptoms tend to worsen after long stretches of sitting, especially if you have poor posture (i.e., slouching, hunching, forward head posture) when you’re seated.
Just as inactivity leaves you with tight, imbalanced muscles and a weak core, “motion is the lotion” that helps you attain improved flexibility and balance in the structures that surround and support your spine.
So, if your job involves long stretches of sitting, take regular breaks, get up frequently, stretch your legs, and take a short walk every 20 minutes or so. To further minimize sciatica symptoms, you should also aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise most days.
During a sciatica flare-up, the right rehabilitation plan can go a long way in helping you open your lower back, take pressure off your sciatic nerve root, and ease your pain. Continuing these simple physical therapy stretches in the absence of sciatic nerve pain can also play a crucial role in keeping the problem at bay.
Good posture is the foundation of good health and pain-free mobility. Slouching and hunching can create imbalances in your musculoskeletal system that stress your spine and make it more vulnerable to misalignments and degeneration. Poor posture is a frequent factor in sciatic nerve pain — but proper posture helps alleviate the problem and prevent its recurrence.
Proper seated or standing posture means maintaining a neutral spine. To support optimal spinal positioning, practice keeping your head level, your ears over your shoulders, your chest lifted, your shoulders back and relaxed, and your core actively engaged.
If you’re struggling with sciatica, our expert team at Orthopedic Center of Palm Beach County can help you attain long-term relief. Call or click online to schedule a visit at our nearest office in Atlantis, Boynton Beach, or Wellington, Florida, today.