Sciatica is a fairly common condition with 10-40% of people developing it in their lifetimes. Which end of the scale you fall toward depends very much on your risk factors.
At Western Orthopaedics, our team of highly trained musculoskeletal experts understands the many conditions that can affect your spine and lead to debilitating back and neck pain. Some of the more common problems we see come through our doors are issues with compressed nerves in the lower back — namely sciatica.
Here’s a look at how sciatica develops and which factors may put you more at risk for this painful condition.
Sciatica at a glance
Your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, and it starts in your lower back, where it then branches out and travels down your buttocks and the backs of both legs to your feet. The thick nerve is made up of five nerve roots — two that originate in your lumbar spine (lower back) and three from your sacrum.
When you have an issue along your spine, usually a disc that’s succumbing to wear and tear and has herniated or bulged, it can irritate the nerve roots that make up your sciatic nerve. When this occurs, it can cause both local pain and pain that radiates down your leg — usually just on one side.
While not necessarily serious, sciatica can sideline you from your daily life, as even the slightest movements can lead to stabbing or electric-like pain down your lower back and leg. In other words, sciatica is a condition that’s best avoided altogether.
The common risk factors for sciatica
Since our focus is on prevention of sciatica, we’re going to concentrate on those risk factors that you have some control over. In reality, it’s not always possible to avoid sciatica, as age is the most common risk factor, which is hardly something you can mitigate.
Outside of age, however, there are factors that are within your power to manage, including:
If you’re carrying extra pounds, you’re placing more pressure on your spine, which can lead to compression and place added stress on the discs that separate your vertebrae. This pressure leaves your discs more prone to herniation or bulging, which can irritate your sciatic nerve.
To relieve the pressure in your spine, losing weight is a great idea and one that will benefit other areas of your health, as well.
Inactivity and lack of strength
At the heart of your back is your spine, which provides the foundational support for your body, but your muscles and other connective tissues also play a key role in this effort. If the muscles that surround your spine aren’t developed, it means you’re losing critical support in your back, which can lead to sciatica.
We recommend that you remain active to strengthen the muscles in your back — even a long walk works the muscles in your lower back. We also want to point out that it’s important to strengthen your muscles on both sides of your back, which includes your abdominal muscles. By providing your spine with front-to-back support, you can prevent sciatica from developing.
You probably already know that smoking is bad for your health, but you may not know that smoking can speed up degenerative disc disease and weaken your bones, including your vertebrae. To prevent this from happening, we’re going to advise that you add spine health to the long list of reasons why you should quit smoking.
If, despite your best efforts, you still develop sciatica, the good news is that we can help. After evaluating your sciatica, we can recommend an appropriate treatment plan, which typically includes physical therapy and medications to control the inflammation.
If you’d like to learn more about preventing or treating sciatica, please contact one of our two offices in Arvada or Denver, Colorado, or request an appointment while you’re here on the website.