Sciatica is a very common and painful issue. Keeping it in check can be difficult especially with various causes that can generate flare-ups. Individuals managing sciatica need to pay attention and be vigilant of the negative activities/movements that could cause symptoms to reappear. A few common causes include:
- Excessively tight-fitting pants
- Improperly lifting heavy objects
- Poor posture
- Weight gain
- Not stretching out
- Wearing the wrong shoes
Knowing what not to do is just as effective for helping sciatica flare-ups as knowing what is best.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve. It comes out the spine through the pelvis, down the leg to the foot. There is one sciatic nerve on each side of the body, and either can become irritated, injured, and inflamed. However, its rare that both are irritated at the same time. The underlying causes can vary. Most of the time the cause is a herniated disc that presses against the nerve, causing the pain. Even though this happens in the lower back, an individual might only feel pain in the buttocks and the back of the leg. Other causes of sciatic nerve pain include:
- Bone spurs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Muscle inflammation
- Muscle spasms
- Spinal stenosis
Making Sciatica Flare-ups Worse
What makes sciatica worse depends on the underlying cause. For most, this is a herniated or bulging disc that presses against the nerve. With this type of case, any increase in pressure on the discs can worsen the symptoms. Sitting down in fact puts more pressure on the spinal discs, worsening the pain. Lying down can also worsen symptoms. When the pain is peaking, lying down for a little while can help, but for too long can worsen symptoms. Standing with a neutral spine, and walking around a bit, can help with nerve pain relief and the healing process.
Poor posture, especially the rounding of the lower back. This usually happens when sitting. The rounded low back becomes a bad habit that individuals think will help with the pain. This can cause a flare-up. The spine has a natural S-curve and the more an individual can maintain that natural curve, the better off they will be.
Too much weight can cause flare-ups with added stress/pressure on the spine, especially the low back. Maintaining a healthy weight will help relieve the added pressure, however, many who experience sciatica have trouble exercising. This is where a physical therapist and chiropractor can assist an individual with customized exercise and diet programs to overcome this obstacle. Eating is a way that individuals deal with pain, anxiety, and depression. But weight gain and poor health can worsen sciatica. Individuals that are overweight tend to experience more inflammation throughout the body, making sciatica even worse.
Not stretching, especially as the body gets older tightens the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. And stretching improperly can injure these areas. There are recommended and non-recommended stretches for individuals dealing/managing sciatica. Stretches that require bending the low back can place added pressure on the lumbar spine, causing sciatica flare-ups.
Lifting Heavy Things
Lifting and improperly lifting heavy objects can worsen sciatica. This has to do with the rounding of the low back. Any time the spine is taken out of its natural S-curve, there is undue pressure on the joints and discs. When lifting heavy objects in this position the problem is worsened. When possible avoid lifting anything heavy while dealing with sciatica. Its healthy to stay active, but there is no need to do intense workouts at home or the gym, especially heavy lifting.
Tight pants can contribute to sciatica. Whether shorts, jeans, or skirts, wearing overly-tight, form-fitting pants should be avoided until the sciatica is gone. And even after it is not recommended to wear overly tight-fitting clothing, as this can cause blood and nerve circulation problems.
Like tight pants, the wrong shoes without adequate support can cause flare-ups. For example, high heels force weight distribution to the front of the feet. For the body to compensate, its normal to push the pelvis and hips forward. When the body is in this position for a long time it starts to place stress on the hamstrings, which will exacerbate sciatica. Shoes without adequate support place added stress on the feet, which gets transferred up the leg to the hamstrings. Customized shoe inserts designed especially for individuals with sciatica can help in preventing symptoms.
Sciatica takes time to heal. Avoiding making it worse and taking all the steps to help it heal, can bring the body back to normal within 2 weeks. For most, it takes around 4 weeks for the pain to go away. This depends on various factors. For example, if sciatica develops during pregnancy, it could take longer to get rid of the pain. One sign that shows improvement is called centralization meaning the pain is moving out of the leg and into the spine. This is a good sign that the individual is on the right track.
The convenience of food delivery is wonderful, but remember that frequently eating food prepared away from home increases the risk of weight gain and obesity. Restaurants tend to serve oversized portions and prepare meals with excessive calories, sodium, and sugar. The benefit of eating from home is that individuals have more control over the ingredients and cooking methods used to prepare the food. It helps to plan meals and snacks in advance to make sure they are balanced. Here are the types of foods that should be included in a balanced meal plan:
- A variety of whole fruits
- Non-starchy vegetables – leafy greens, red and orange veggies
- Starchy vegetables – potatoes, green peas, legumes, winter squash
- Grains, with the goal to make at least œ from whole-grain sources
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy milk, yogurt, cheese
- Protein from various sources – lean meats, seafood, eggs, nuts & seeds, and soy products
- Healthy cooking oils – olive oil or canola oil
- Nuts and nut butter
- Fresh or frozen fruits
- Dried herbs and spices
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Sciatica. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/sciatica.html. Accessed November 29, 2018.
Sciatica Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy. babyMed. https://www.babymed.com/pregnancy/sciatica-pain-during-pregnancy. Updated on August 29, 2018. Accessed November 29, 2018.
Shiel WC. Degenerative Disc Disease and Sciatica. MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/degenerative_disc/article.htm#what_are_the_symptoms_of_radiculopathy_and_sciatica. Last reviewed August 10, 2018. Accessed November 29, 2018.