How are so many people at risk?
Sciatica is a condition when there is pressure or irritation to the sciatic nerve (the largest nerve in the body). According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), in 2012, 9.8 percent of U.S. adults suffer from sciatica. The sciatic nerve is made up of multiple spinal nerves that all join together to create the larger sciatic nerve. The individual nerves originate in the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine, then travel down through the pelvis, down the legs, and into the feet. Symptoms of sciatica are usually unilateral (either right or left side of the body) and will follow the path of the sciatic nerve. The most common symptom is pain. Other common symptoms include but are not limited to numbness, pins and needles sensations, weakness in the legs, and burning sensations.
The sciatic nerve can be damaged, compressed, or irritated in a number of different ways.
In many cases, there is compression on the nerves from subluxation of the vertebrae in the lower back and pelvis. Subluxation of the vertebrae means the vertebrae gets out of its normal alignment and puts pressure on the nerve that exits within that vertebral segments. That pressure on the nerve creates the sciatica symptoms you feel. Vertebral misalignments can occur a few different ways: bad posture while sleeping, bad posture at work, looking down at you phone repetitively. Does that sound like things you do? Just about everyone gets in trouble here because these are thing that almost everyone does on a daily basis and for long periods of time. Others instances such as sitting with your legs crossed, falling in a soccer game, getting in car accidents, or just a slip or misstep walking to you car will cause subluxations. The bone shifting out of place does not have to cause pain but can still compress that nerve and lead to degeneration.
Of course trauma to the back will cause damage to the sciatic nerve or other structures that could affect it. A common structure that affects the nerve is damage to the intervertebral disc. An intervertebral disc is located between each vertebrae and is responsible for shock absorption and mobility of the spine. In relation to the nerve, it’s the structure that is directly in front on the nerve. These discs become susceptible to injury with repetitive motions, degeneration, or traumatic/acute events. Abnormal pressure causes the disc to bulge out and becoming wider pushing back and decreasing the space behind it where the nerve exits. The worst form of this disc bulging is called a herniation. A disc herniation doesn’t present as bulging out in all directions but ballooning in one direction.
What are the risk factors?
There are a number of risk factors for sciatica. Age is considered a risk factor due to the wear and tear that is placed on the body over time. As we age and are affected by the everyday traumas of life, our spine can degenerate if it is not properly taken care of. This degeneration comes in the form of herniated discs and bone spurs that can develop in a neglected spine. Occupational hazards from physical labor to sitting at a desk can also increase your risk for sciatica. Traumatic injuries to the low back can also increase the risk for sciatica.
Is My Job Causing my Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition that can affect just about anyone in the workforce. Pretty much whatever you do increases your risk of having sciatica. Another study states that sciatica affects 1 out of every 10 people ranging in ages of 25 – 45. Pretty much the majority of the workforce. The job responsibilities that create the highest risk for sciatica are jobs that require repetitive lifting, twisting, and bending, or frequently being put in awkward positions. This repetitive motion commonly damages the intervertebral disc.
A few easy fixes are: watching your posture when you are lifting light or heavy objects, bending with the legs and not with the back, and instead of twisting the body, turn the whole body. Jobs that require driving throughout the day increases your risk for sciatica. The constant sitting and bouncing a car/truck does on the road applies pressure to the disc and causes bulging/herniations.
Prolonged sitting in general such as jobs where you are at a computer desk increases your risks. If you don’t find time to move, stretch, mobilize your spine, they can become stuck and start to degenerate the bones and disc of the spine. A few simple fixes: don’t cross your legs and keep both feet flat on the floor, hips and knees should be bent at 90 degrees, and use your lumbar support and don’t lean forward, and if your chair rotates or has wheels, rotate your entire body instead of twisting.
How can healthy exercise be harm my body?
Low back pain and sciatica has been said to affect around 40% of runners. The sciatic nerve travels from the low back down the back of the legs into the feet. The nerve is so large that runners can’t avoid affecting it in some way. Running involves a lot of pelvic motion and if that motion is restricted by stuck joints or if there is issue with the muscles, such as spasming or tightness, then you are at a much higher risk of irritating the sciatic nerve. Piriformis syndrome is contraction of the piriformis muscle usually due to an unbalanced pelvis. Correcting the imbalance and stretching the muscles of the pelvis is recommended. If you’re a runner, it should be priority that you keep your body balanced. Not only will an unbalanced pelvis cause back issues but also hip, knee, and/or foot/ankle problems.
Sciatica treatments that may work for you.
Many things that we mentioned above that can create your sciatica are structural misalignments or posture imbalances. In most cases, chiropractic treatment can help to restore your posture and remove the subluxations causing nerve compression. For more information about chiropractic treatment for sciatica please click here.
If you suffer from sciatica and you start to have issues with loss of bladder or bowel control, disabling pain, or progressive muscle weakness such as in inability to lift the foot (foot drop) please contact your doctor immediately.
Dr. Bryen Brown is married to Dawn and has one son. He grew up in Bogalusa, LA and received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Grambling State University in 2008. He then attended and graduated from Texas Chiropractic College in 2012. Click Here To Read Full Bio