Sciatica is known for causing lower back pain along with its hallmark symptom, pain that shoots down one leg. These symptoms occur when the nerve is pinched in your lumbar spine, most often due to a disc problem, such as a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease.
Once you have a pinched nerve, it’s common to experience flare-ups of pain. Our neurosurgeon, Richard B. Kim, MD can help you prevent sciatica flare-ups with these five tips:
Sitting for a long time is one of the best ways to aggravate your sciatica and cause a flare-up of pain. When you sit, the pressure placed on your lower back significantly increases.
Any increase in pressure worsens the underlying condition and leads to nerve compression. As a result, you develop a new round of sciatica pain or an increase in existing pain.
The best way to relieve pain and prevent a flare-up is to take a break from sitting every 20 minutes. Stretch and take a short walk around your home or workplace.
You can also reduce lower back pressure by sitting in a well-designed ergonomic chair. If your chair doesn’t provide lumbar support, try using a lumbar pillow or a rolled-up towel.
Also, keep your feet flat on the floor to cause minimal lower back pressure. Try to avoid twisting, turning, or bending from the waist while sitting. These movements further aggravate sciatica.
Strengthening your abdominal and back muscles supports your lower spine and helps to prevent flare-ups or to at least reduce their frequency. You also need to stretch your muscles because tight spine and hamstring muscles increase the stress on your lower back.
Though exercise is essential for a strong, flexible spine, you could cause further damage or trigger your sciatica with exercises that are too aggressive or done improperly. For this reason, you should talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Your initial regimen should be gentle, low impact, and designed to support the underlying cause of your sciatica. We can help by designing an exercise plan that works for your individual back and overall health.
Walking generally relieves the pain of sciatica, which is why it’s one of the best exercises for the long run and also a good option when taking a break from sitting. But it’s important to know that certain postures people assume when walking can stress the spine and pinch the nerve.
For example, walking with your upper back bent forward or the opposite, bending slightly backward are two examples of postures that are bad for your lower back.
As you walk, think about maintaining good posture by standing up straight and keeping your head positioned on top of your spine, looking straight ahead rather than bending down. Slowing down your pace and taking shorter steps may help you maintain good posture.
Your spine, and especially your lower back where the sciatic nerve is pinched, bear a substantial burden when you’re overweight.
Being overweight or obese is directly associated with a higher risk of spinal degeneration in the lower back, which aggravates sciatica flare-ups, makes the pain worse, and slows down healing.
Everyone who carries extra weight has a higher risk of a sciatica flare-up, but the problem is worse if you have a lot of weight in your stomach. Excess weight in your abdomen tends to strain the lower back more than weight that’s spread throughout your body.
You can prevent or relieve sciatica by always being aware of how you move and the stress that movement places on your lower back.
Whether you’re carrying groceries, lifting a toddler, or lifting heavy objects as part of your job, always use proper body mechanics when lifting and carrying.
Bend and lift using your legs, not your back. Also, don’t bend or twist your upper body while holding something heavy. If you must turn around, turn your whole body.
If you have any questions about the best way to prevent sciatica flare-ups, or you need an exam to determine the cause of your ongoing pain, we’re here to help. Call Richard B. Kim, MD, or schedule an appointment online.