Your back is one of the areas in your body that you hope never develops chronic pain. Unfortunately, because it’s a crucial part of the way you move, it’s very prone to injury and degenerative conditions. Sciatica is just one of the many causes of chronic back pain, and it can be very tricky to get under control on your own.
That’s where our team at Southern Pain Specialists can help. Dr. Kenneth Varley, our pain management specialist, is an expert in treating all kinds of back pain, including sciatica. Not only does he get you the treatment you need, he also helps you understand how to prevent or minimize flare-ups.
Causes of sciatica
Your back is a vital part of how you move, and it protects your ever-important spinal cord. Not only is your back made up of tough vertebrae and spongy intervertebral discs, it also houses a number of sensitive nerves, the largest being your sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back into your buttocks and hips. From your hips, it branches off into both of your legs and terminates below your knees. Sciatica occurs when part of your sciatic nerve becomes pinched or compressed, causing pain in your back and legs.
Several different conditions can lead to compression of your sciatic nerve, including:
An injury to your back may also lead to compression of your sciatic nerve. Factors that increase your risk of developing this condition include:
- Weak core muscles
- Physical occupation
- Inactive lifestyle
While some of these risk factors are things you can change, others aren’t. It’s important that you keep your back muscles strong to prevent issues with sciatica.
Are you making your pain worse?
Sciatic nerve pain can be unbearable at times. Sometimes, you may think you’re helping yourself when you’re not. Here are a few of the things that could be making your sciatic pain more severe:
Sitting too long
When you sit for long periods of time, especially without proper support, it can lead to painful muscle spasms or stiffness. This may aggravate your sciatica, especially if you sit for hours at a time.
The best thing you can do is get up and move around several times an hour, especially if you have a job that requires a lot of sitting. You also want to make sure that you have proper back support when you’re sitting.
Lifting heavy weight
Lifting heavy weights, especially without properly warming up your muscles, can severely strain your lower back. This puts unnecessary pressure on your sciatic nerve, leading to more pain. If you do weight training, make sure to start out with stretching and light range-of-motion exercises. Always use proper lifting technique, engaging your core and protecting your back.
Overstretching your hamstrings is a surefire way to irritate your sciatic nerve. Exercises that stretch these muscles include downward dog yoga pose, bending to touch your toes, and weighted squats. You can also go for a walk or swim a few laps to work the muscles in your lower legs.
Bending and twisting
If you’re suffering from sciatic pain, you should completely avoid bending over at your hips to pick something up off the floor. This puts too much stress on your lower back, which can worsen your pain. Instead, keep your back straight, bend your knees, and perform a small squat to avoid increasing your discomfort.
Twisting your spine is another way you could be aggravating your sciatic nerve. While you don’t need to completely avoid this type of motion, don’t twist while performing other motions such as bending. These movements together may irritate the joints in your lower back, causing more pain.
Too much rest
Even though it may be tempting to stay in bed when your sciatica is at its worst, that may make your discomfort worse. Some rest is a good idea, but more than a day or so is too much and can lead to stiffness and painful spasms. Even just getting up and walking around the house can help your pain subside.