Thought to affect about 1 in 10 Americans, lower back pain, known as sciatica, typically affects people in the 25-45 age group. Problems stem from compression of one or more nerves within the sciatic group, a bundle of nerves that branch from your spine and travel down your legs. In fact, nerve compression in your lower back can cause symptoms anywhere along the nerve path, down to and including the feet.
Causes of sciatic nerve compression
Nerve tissue in your body likes to have space around it and, for the most part, your body does a great job of giving nerves lots of room. However, when something happens and other tissue comes in contact with nerves, they can grow irritated. For instance, carpal tunnel syndrome stems from compression of nerves in the wrist.
Sciatica describes the condition when sciatic nerve tissue becomes irritated. These nerves branch off from the spinal cord, which is protected by the complex series of joints making up your spine. There’s plenty of places where nerve compression can take place.
Changes to the condition of the spine are perhaps the most common causes of sciatica, with herniated discs leading the way. When disc tissue is squeezed out of its normal position, it can place pressure on the sciatic nerves.
Changes to the space where nerves pass through the spine is called spinal stenosis. When bone calcification interferes with the nerve, compression can result. Structural problems of the spine can do the same, such as after an injury or through a disorder called spondylolisthesis.
The sciatic nerves pass under the piriformis muscles, which assist hip rotation, and these muscles can also irritate the nerves.
Sciatica’s contributing factors
Sometimes there’s little you can do about things that increase your risk of developing sciatica. However, here are six factors that may be contributing to your back pain. It’s possible that more than one factor affects you, so changing what you can control may help you find long-term relief.
Bone spurs leading to stenosis and changes to the strength of spinal discs tend to develop in everyone as they age. Since there’s little you can do about the passing of time, committing to an otherwise healthy lifestyle may help your body cope with sciatica.
When health care providers talk about “ideal weight,” they’re matching your body weight to its structure. Being overweight or obese puts added strain on virtually every system in your body. This added mass accelerates wear-and-tear on the spine.
Health conditions can sometimes contribute to nerve irritation or damage. Uncontrolled diabetes can disrupt sciatic nerve tissue due to high levels of blood sugar. Though there’s no sciatic nerve compression, damage to these nerves can create similar symptoms.
Weak core muscles place more of your physical load-bearing on the spine, making you more susceptible to disc herniation. Strong core muscles, on the other hand, take more of the load and ease pressure on your spine. This is particularly important if your job involves heavy lifting or frequent twisting.
If you need to sit for long periods for work or hobbies, you’re more likely to develop sciatica. Take frequent short breaks to stand and stretch. Any increase in daily physical activity is usually a good step toward back health.
Regular treatment with Dr. Heller and the team at City Chiropractic and Wellness can keep your spine in alignment, allowing your body to heal naturally and protect your sciatic nerves. Based on your pain levels and lifestyle, Dr. Heller can recommend a treatment plan to keep you pain-free and mobile. Call the office or book your personal consultation online today.