If you have sciatica, the last thing you want to do is make your pain worse. If your sciatic nerve is inflamed, there are quite a few things that you need to avoid or, at the very least, address. If you have suffered with sciatic pain for long, you probably have figured out some of the things to avoid on your own. Pain is one of the best teachers.
Because sciatica is an inflammatory diagnosis, there are certain activities and even foods that will seem to cause a flare-up out of nowhere. Learning what to avoid will decrease the likelihood of severe pain in your lower back, buttocks, and leg from sciatic nerve irritation. Let's take a look at some of them.
What Aggravates Sciatica Pain?
1. Poor Posture
According to the National Institutes of Health, back problems will affect about 80 percent of Americans at some time in their lives, and experts say that poor posture is a major culprit.
Sitting at computer desks, and playing video games, texting on phones all lead to bad posture. Slouching, craning your neck, and arching your back are all common posture problems when performing these activities.
Use lumbar support cushions, coccyx seat cushions, and footrests while sitting keep your spine in alignment with your body and drastically reduce your chances of having a sciatica pain flare-up. Also, avoid looking down at your phone for long periods of time by bringing it up to eye level on a desk or a table. Be sure that you are sitting back in your computer chair and that your head is in line with your spine.
There are many ways to improve your posture.
2. Weak Core Muscles
Your core muscles consist of your stomach muscles, back muscles, and pelvic muscles. They are strategically located to form a circle around your midsection. They are designed to work together equally to support and protect your lower back.
However, weak core muscles are very common, which accounts for a large percentage of back problems, including sciatic pain.
When your core muscles are strong it is like having a back brace on all the time. When your core muscles are weak, your back is working double-time to support your spine and hold up your stomach. That isn't healthy for your back, and you can see why your back might get a little cranky, and you may experience back pain. That's why regular core training is one of the best things you can do to help you manage sciatica symptoms.
Try doing some exercises to strengthen your core muscles.
3. Sleeping on Your Stomach
Sleeping on your stomach can cause you to arch your back during sleep. When your back arches, the space in between your vertebrae gets more cramped in the back. That is where your nerves are. Being that your sciatic nerve is the biggest nerve, you can see why this might pose a problem.
The best sleeping position is on your side with your knees slightly bent and a pillow between them. However, if you are a staunch stomach sleeper who finds yourself on your stomach no matter what position you start out in, here are a few tips.
a.) Try putting a pillow under your ankles when you sleep.
b.) Put a pillow under your belly. This will help to open up your spine when you are sleeping.
c.) Don't sleep without a pillow under your head. Using a thin pillow is much better than using nothing at all.
4. Sitting or Standing for Long Periods
Americans spend a lot of time sitting, and that may seem like the lesser of the evils when it comes to back pain, but it isn't. The highest amount of compressive force on your spine happens when you are sitting, and considering that we spend about 7 hours a day sitting, it's no wonder there is such a high prevalence of lower back pain in this country.
Compressive force is the amount of downward pressure that is on the discs in between your vertebrae. If you have a herniated or bulging disc, the more compressive force that's applied, the more irritated the disc becomes. The irritation then spreads to the surrounding nerves, which can cause sciatica pain.
While standing relieves some of the compressive force on your spine, staying in one position for too long is actually the culprit. If you find that you are getting lost in your work and several hours pass by before you notice how long you have been in one position, it may be a good idea to set a timer.
Set a timer that you have to turn off manually and set it across the room. This way, you have to physically get up and change your position to turn it off.
Changing positions every 30 to 60 minutes is optimal.
5. Exercising the Wrong Way
Exercising is good for you and is necessary for optimal health. However, exercising with poor posture or overexerting yourself to the point of extreme muscle fatigue can do more harm than good.
If you have sciatica pain or have had flare-ups in the past gentle stretches and yoga poses are good options for starting out.
Here are 10 exercises to avoid if you suffer with sciatica and or back pain.
Strong core muscles are your body's way of protecting your back. Focus on strengthening your core muscles and stretching any tight muscles before attempting more difficult exercises.
6. Bending, Lifting, and Twisting
While each one of these activities by themselves is not good to do, doing all three of them at the same time is a recipe for disaster when it comes to sciatica pain.
a.) Instead of bending at your waist, you should be bending your knees and perform a squat instead. This keeps your back straight while you are able to get into a lower position.
b.) When you absolutely have to lift something, make sure that you are squatting with your legs, your back is straight, and you keep the object close to you to become part of your center of gravity.
c.) Holding an object out in front, away from your body, is very bad body mechanics and can result in injury or flare-up.
d.) When turning while holding an object, move your feet in the direction that you want to place the object. DO NOT TWIST your back.
7. Ignoring Warning Signs
Before you have a major flare-up of sciatica pain, your body will usually give you subtle warnings that your sciatic nerve is becoming irritated. You may have a twinge of pain down your leg or even some throbbing or tingling that goes away after a few minutes. If you don't heed these warning signs and make changes in your behavior, you are headed for a painful flare-up.
What to do when you notice warning signs:
a.) Rest - A little bit of rest is a good thing. However, putting yourself on a strict bed rest is not. Gentle movement is just as important as rest.
b.) Gentle stretches - Perform gentle sciatic stretches to increase blood flow to the nerve and decrease irritation. Avoid any stretch that causes increased pain.
c.) Ice - Use an ice pack on your low back for 20 minutes at a time. You can ice for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off throughout the day.
Avoiding sciatica pain can be tricky, but if you are armed with good tips to avoid a major flare-up, it is manageable most of the time. However, sometimes despite your very best efforts, you can still find yourself in the middle of a painful flare-up.
Keeping a journal of your daily activities can help identify behaviors and even foods that trigger flare-ups. It can be frustrating, but learning what causes your flare-ups is the key to controlling them.