Anybody who’s ever experienced the sharp lower back pain and searing leg pain associated with sciatica would have done anything possible to prevent it. Luckily, sciatica can be prevented with a few easy lifestyle changes.
Sciatica is simply a term that means pain or inflammation of the sciatic nerve that runs down the back of the leg. Sciatica causes pain in the low back, buttocks, and legs – all the way to the foot at times. Because a nerve is directly involved, the pain can be immediate and quite severe.
The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and then travels through the buttocks and down the back of the thigh. At the knee it splits into two different nerves and travels down the calf and around the ankle to the foot. This is a long and perilous course and the nerve can easily become pinched by the muscles in the deep layers of the buttocks, bound up by tight and gnarly hamstrings, or compressed by the sinewy calf muscles. Disc degeneration in the lower back can also irritate the nerve directly at its source.
Sciatica is a fairly generic term because it doesn’t give any information about the actual source of the problem – which could be occurring anywhere along the path of the nerve. Therefore, it’s extremely important to be evaluated by a health professional to determine the true cause of the problem. Simply trying to “stretch it out” may not be the best thing to do – in fact, an inflamed nerve does not like to be stretched so stretching may actually make sciatica worse. Our society is far too obsessed with stretching everything.
Once sciatica is properly diagnosed, it can be easily treated by chiropractic care. Full recovery usually takes between 4 and 8 weeks, depending on the severity of the problem.
The focus of today’s blog is prevention – so let’s look at risk factors for sciatica. A 2014 study identified several key risk factors for developing sciatic pain. People who are overweight, live a sedentary lifestyle, smoke or have a past history of back pain are far more likely to get sciatica. This makes perfect sense because all of these things negatively affect the strength and integrity of muscles and nerves and when these tissues are already compromised, severe pain is likely to develop from even a minor disturbance. The good news is that every day is a new day. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life. Any change you make towards a healthier life will have immediate and lasting effects.
What can you do to reduce your risk of sciatica? First and foremost, take good care of your back! Practice good posture, lift safely, and avoid sitting for extended periods (get up and walk around for a minute or two every 20 minutes). Secondly, exercise! Daily movement – especially walking or swimming – gets the blood flowing and keeps your muscles loose and pliable so they don’t pinch or compress your sciatic nerve. Thirdly, limit toxins in your body – don’t smoke and avoid processed foods. Strength comes from the inside out – your body is only as healthy as the food you eat and this is especially true for nerves and muscles. Finally, seek regular chiropractic care. Wellness care for your spine is as important as wellness care for your teeth and eyes. Regular spinal care prevents restrictions and stiff spots from irritating the sciatic nerve and also reduces the risk of degeneration.
These small changes will not only reduce your risk of developing sciatica, they will also help your entire body feel better and lead to a healthier life and a stronger, healthier body.