In layman’s terms, sciatica is a pain that occurs along the course of your sciatic nerve–a nerve that begins in your lower back and continues through your hip, buttocks, and down each leg.  Normally, sciatica only affects one side of your body.  The most common causes of sciatica are pressure on the nerve from a herniated disk or bone spur.  This pressure leads to an inflammation and numbness in your leg that can be very painful.

Even if you are not experiencing these symptoms right now, knowing risk factors and prevention methods is very important for your future health.  You do not want to be caught off-guard; make sure you learn the facts.

Risk Factors for Sciatica

As previously stated, sciatica can be caused by pressure from a herniated disk or bone spur.  However, this does not just occur on its own.  There are certain factors that cause disk herniation and bones spurs that, in turn, cause sciatica.  According to the Mayo Clinic, some people are at a higher risk of getting sciatica because of their lifestyle.

  1. Age:
    Middle aged adults are at a higher risk for sciatica due to the degeneration of their spine and body.  They are therefore more prone to herniated disks than other age groups.
  2. Weight:
    People who suffer from obesity are more likely to suffer from sciatica due to the increased pressure on their spine from their excess weight.
  3. Diabetes:
    Diabetes affects the way your body uses sugar, thus increase the risk of nerve damage.
  4. Prolonged Sitting:
    People who spend most of their day sitting or in a sedentary position are more likely to get sciatica than those with active lifestyles.  Extended periods of sitting puts extra pressure on your sciatic nerve which can lead to irritation.
  5. Occupation:
    With relation to sedentary positions, people with sedentary jobs or jobs that require heavy lifting, twisting, or driving for long periods of times can also lead to irritation of the sciatic nerve.
  6. Walkers and Runners:
    While a sedentary lifestyle can cause sciatica, so can an active one.  People who run and walk on a regular basis can get sciatica from the repeated contraction of muscle in your hip.  This muscle irritation can lead to sciatic nerve irritation, thus causing sciatica.
  7. Pregnant Women:
    This is due to hormonal changes and the position of the baby.

Sciatica Prevention

Sciatica is not 100% preventable; however, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow some key steps, you are less likely to develop the condition.  Exercising regularly is a good way to maintain overall health as well as back health.  Focusing on your core muscles can strengthen not only your abdomen, but your back as well that lead to proper posture, which is also very important.  It is vital to have good posture when sitting and standing.  When sitting, be sure to pick a chair with good lower back support and to keep your knees and hips level.  This will help avoid daily back pains.

Finally, use good body mechanics.  Do not put too much pressure on your extremities for too long.  If you are standing for long periods of time, be sure to shift your weight around.  When lifting heavy objects, lift with your legs and avoid twisting.  Remember, there is no harm in asking for help if something is too heavy or awkward.  These simple steps can help you avoid recurrent sciatica as well as everyday back pain.

Should You Consult a Doctor?

Sciatica varies between patients.  Most mild sciatica goes away in time; however, if the pain lasts more than a week, your home treatments are not working, or the pain is getting worse, you should contact your doctor right away.  The pain may need to be relieved by surgery to stop permanent nerve damage, especially if the sciatica was a result of an accident or injury.  In the meantime, we recommend pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, using cold and hot packs, and ActivAided to relieve the pain.  Stretching is also a helpful method in treating sciatica–but try to avoid twisting or sudden movements.