It’s no secret that what we do in our lives affects our bodies. Between our diet, our level of physical activity, and how we use our bodies, the things we do play an active role in our overall health.
We understand this as a concept on a larger, more general scale, but what about when it comes to specific problems? What can we do to help ease the symptoms of specific illnesses or issues we have with our health?
And what could we be doing to make our problems worse?
Some medical conditions can be worsened by specific actions and activities. You may think of exercise-induced asthma or seasonal allergies. But there are some other health issues that you may not know the root cause of or what triggers it.
If you suffer from sciatica, you may be doing some activities that worsen your symptoms. Some of these just may surprise you.
Let’s look at six ways that you may be triggering your sciatica.
What Is Sciatica?
Before we take a dive into the ways you could be triggering your sciatica, let’s have a quick overview of what sciatica is.
Sciatica refers to a pain that sort of radiates out from your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back to your buttocks and all the way down your leg. When a part of it gets compressed or pinched for one reason or another, it causes pain to shoot out throughout large parts of the nerve.
This pain is described as a radiating, almost electric, shooting pain, or a dull ache. In some circumstances, people experience tingling or even numbness in part of their lower back or leg. You may also experience weakness or have a hard time moving the affected area.
Common Causes of Sciatica
The reason for sciatic pain at its most basic understanding is inflammation. The root cause of sciatica is typically either a herniated disk or a bone spur along the spine near the lower back that's causing swelling.
It could also be caused by a narrowing of the spine, also known as spinal stenosis. This causes compression of the nerve, leading to sciatica and that radiating pain. Sciatic nerve pain may also be linked with piriformis syndrome, a problem with your piriformis muscle that can put further pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Both chronic sciatica and acute sciatica are potential problems. Sometimes it can even be avoided entirely if you know how to do it correctly.
What Could Trigger Sciatica?
So now we get to the real problem. What could you be doing that might be triggering or worsening your sciatica?
Some of these triggers probably make a lot of sense, while some of them might surprise you. Here are six things that you could be doing that worsen your sciatica pain and what you can do to help ease that pain.
1. Bad Posture
The way that you stand, sit, or walk could be triggering or worsening your sciatica, especially if you remain in that same position for long periods of time. A sedentary lifestyle is a frequent culprit of this condition.
This is because when you walk or sit, you’re affecting the path of your sciatic nerve down your leg. When you sit or stand in a way that applies more pressure on one side of your body than another, this leads to the pinching of the nerve.
When walking, this becomes all the more important. The weight-bearing on top of the nerve worsens the pressure that you would put on it while sitting or standing still.
Stress affects our bodies in more ways than we can possibly imagine.
When we stress about something too much, our hair can become brittle, our bodies can gain weight, and we can break out in rashes or hives. When you’re stressed, your body is maintaining a “fight or flight” stature constantly.
This leads to an increased resting heart rate, hyper-awareness, headaches, and partial contraction of your muscles. When your lower back and buttocks muscles are partially contracted, that puts a lot of pressure on your sciatic nerve. This stress leads to the physical effects of sciatica.
3. Tight Jeans
This is one you may not have considered before. We know that tight jeans and tight bottoms like compression leggings or underwear are not the most comfortable. But we may not consider just how much they affect our circulation.
Tight jeans or underwear actually limit the circulation of your blood to your lower half. When you aren’t getting a sufficient amount of circulation, your nerves aren’t getting the oxygen they need to function healthily. This means your sciatica could be suffering from those skinny jeans or “tummy control” underwear.
4. High Heels
If you needed a reason not to wear high heels, here’s one for you.
High heels, when used without proper cushioning or ones that are ill-fitting, can worsen your sciatica, especially when you wear them for a full day at work. This makes sense when you think about how much they alter the way that you walk.
When you move around in heels, your weight is shifted forward into your hips. To compensate for this altered posture, your lower back and buttocks muscles have to readjust and shorten. This leads to, you guessed it, worse sciatica pain.
5. Keeping Things in Your Back Pocket While Sitting
A popular place to keep things like your phone or wallet is in your back pockets. It’s convenient, it’s close, and our back pockets are much larger than our tiny front pockets (or non-existent pockets if you wear women’s pants.)
Though the back pocket is a great place to store your stuff, make sure you remember to take everything out of your back pockets before you sit down at dinner or in your car.
These objects work similarly to tight pants in cutting off your circulation, but they’re even more specific in where they put pressure. Your wallet could be pressing up against your sciatic nerve, causing that awful sciatica pain.
6. Your Diet
Yes, even the foods that you eat can be triggering your sciatica.
Since it’s caused by inflammation, sciatica can be worsened by eating other inflammatory foods.
Things like sugar, vegetable oil, artificial trans fats, and processed meats can be increasing the inflammation of your sciatica that’s causing you so much pain. Unfortunately, alcohol is also a big culprit of increased inflammation in your muscles, joints, and nerves.
How Can You Ease Sciatica?
With all of these triggers, is there anything that you can do to ease those symptoms of sciatica pain?
You’re in luck. There are a few easy, simple fixes that you can incorporate into your daily life to lessen the effects of this nerve inflammation.
Use a Seat Cushion
Sciatica is frequently worsened by your sitting position. Not only can your seat itself be too soft or low, but this texture can also encourage poor posture. This compounds into a bad mix for your sciatica symptoms.
Using a seat cushion can help solve both of these problems. They provide support for your buttocks with the surface and firmness that it needs. They also set up your pelvis in the position it needs to be in to engage core muscles and encourage a better seated posture.
Another easy way to reduce sciatica pain is to dress in loose-fitting, more comfortable clothes.
You don’t need to wear skinny jeans and heels every day. See where you can make adjustments to your daily wardrobe to avoid a new sciatica flare-up.
Speak With Your Doctor
If you find that home remedies aren't working, don't hesitate to speak with your doctor. With x-rays or an MRI, they may find that there's an underlying cause to your sciatica, like Spondylolisthesis (or vertebrae misalignment) or a herniated disc. You might need a cortisone injection or surgery. In less extreme cases, your doctor might also recommend physical therapy to help you manage the hip and lower back pain.
Sciatica Can Be Treated
Sciatica is painful and uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. By avoiding these common sciatica triggers, you can save your back and legs some aching.