Sciatica is one of the most debilitating back conditions. In part, it involves nerve pain and also because so many things can cause it to flare up. What's worse is that what causes it to flare up on one occasion might not cause it to flare on another. It's unpredictable, painful, and downright irritating.
Symptoms of sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated and inflamed. The irritation is often caused by a herniated disk, a bulging disk that bulges into the spinal canal that your nerves run through. The nerve component of sciatica pain is what makes it so difficult to predict. Nerves are highly irritable and flare up as a result of even the slightest touch.
A herniated or bulging disk that invades upon the sciatic nerve is the most common cause of sciatic pain. However, irritation of the piriformis muscle, which is located very close to the sciatic nerve, can also cause sciatic pain.
Symptoms of sciatica include lower back pain, buttock pain, and pain that radiates into one leg. Sciatica pain very rarely, if ever, will be present in both legs. Most flare-ups last for about 2 weeks and will resolve on their own with conservative treatment.
Let's take a look at some things that can make sciatica pain worse to help you avoid having a flare-up of sciatic nerve pain.
What Makes Sciatica Pain Worse?
Sitting For Long Periods of Time
The sitting position puts the highest amount of compressive force on your back. Therefore, sitting for long periods of time can lead to increased compression on your disks, which can, in turn, put compression on your sciatic nerve.
If you have a job that requires you to sit, try to stand up and stretch frequently or go for a walk around your office if you can. Performing gentle piriformis muscle stretching throughout the day can also help ease sciatica pain.
Sitting with Your Wallet or Phone in Your Back Pocket
As I mentioned earlier, your piriformis muscle can be a culprit in causing sciatica pain. When you sit with hard objects in your back pockets, they can push on your piriformis, which can become irritated and subsequently irritate your sciatic nerve.
There is also a possibility that sitting with something in one pocket and not in the other regularly can cause your pelvis to become higher on one side. This can ultimately cause back pain and even sciatica. Try to remember to remove your phone or wallet from your back pocket before sitting.
Wearing High Heeled Shoes
Wearing shoes with high heels regularly could contribute to your back and sciatic nerve pain. When you wear heels, it changes your weight distribution to the front of your feet, which causes your pelvis to be more forward. This puts a strain on your glutes and hamstrings over time.
Your sciatic nerve runs through your glutes and alongside your hamstrings, so any irritation in these areas can be a cause of sciatica. Lower back pain has also been linked to wearing high heels for the same reasons.
It is important to wear sensible shoes that provide good support to keep your posture in proper alignment. When your posture isn't right, it puts pressure on your spine that may cause neck, upper back, or low back pain.
Carrying around extra weight is another cause of lower back and increased incidence of sciatic nerve pain. Extra weight in your stomach can be especially problematic because the weight in the front causes your pelvis to tip forward, which causes your lower back to arch.
Arching your lower back can decrease the space in your spinal canals and put pressure on your nerves. Losing weight and doing exercises to strengthen your stomach muscles should resolve the problem.
Lack of Activity
It's a catch twenty-two because fear of causing a sciatica pain flare-up can lead to inactivity. However, inactivity can lead to increased amounts of time sitting, which can indeed cause a flare-up of sciatica pain. It's not an easy situation but being active is always better than just sitting around.
Going for a moderately paced 30-60 minute walk is considered good exercise and will also get you out of a seated position. Stronger, more flexible muscles will improve spinal nerve mobility and decrease the likelihood of a flare-up.
Tight Restrictive Clothing
Wearing tight clothing made of material that doesn't have a lot of give like denim jeans can put pressure on your stomach, low back, buttocks and legs. Sciatic pain affects your low back, buttocks, and legs. Anything that puts pressure on these areas should be avoided at all costs.
Switching that tight denim for a material with a little bit of give and doesn't dig into your skin will decrease the likelihood of a pressure-related sciatic nerve pain flare-up.
Having uncontrolled blood sugars for long periods of time can cause peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy causes damage to the nerve fibers in your feet, legs, toes, hands, and arms. Damage to the sciatic nerve fibers can cause sciatic pain symptoms to flare.
Diabetes is a serious disease that can cause severe problems with your legs and feet if it's not closely managed. See your doctor regularly and be sure that your blood sugar is under control to avoid getting diabetes.
If you already have diabetes, then diligently follow your doctor's instructions to keep your blood sugar under control to avoid having serious complications.
These are some of the most common things that can make your sciatica pain worse. Keeping a journal of your sciatica pain flare-ups and what you were doing, wearing, or even eating before it started can help you zero in on what is making your pain worse.
Eliminating any irritating factors will increase your chances of being pain-free for longer periods of time. The longer you are pain-free, the more active you can be, and being active is one irritating factor you can cross off the list.