The sensations that radiate down your leg are familiar to anyone who has had sciatica, an irritation of the sciatic nerve that branches off from your spine in the lower back and runs down the length of each leg. The effects can range from mild tingling or numbness, up to severe pain and muscle weakness.
Fortunately, as with most back pain, sciatica often resolves itself over a few weeks with modest treatment, but it can become chronic and even dangerous without medical intervention. At Arlington Pain & Therapy, we can help, starting with this information about sciatica and how your weight affects this painful condition.
Physiology of the sciatic nerve
Nine times out of 10, sciatica results from a spinal disc herniation, but any condition that causes irritation of the sciatic nerve may play a role. The cushioning discs between vertebrae have a tough outer shell and a softer viscous center.
When the shell is breached, tissue from the center leaks out through the rupture and presses against the sciatic nerve as it branches off the spinal cord. Usually only one side of your body is affected, but it’s possible for both legs to be affected simultaneously. Arthritic bone spurs are another cause of nerve irritation, when the spurs reduce the space through which the sciatic nerves travel.
How body weight contributes to sciatica
It may not be immediately obvious how extra pounds can result in localized nerve irritation. But your body is a well-balanced system capable of many movements that require coordination of muscles and joints, with each part supporting different forces, depending on the movement and changes to your center of gravity.
At your optimal weight, your body can easily redistribute these loads as you go through daily activities. But when you gain weight, you add force through leverage that is greater than the additional weight. Essentially, these loads can exceed your body’s design tolerances. Simply put, these added forces make you more vulnerable to injuries that result in sciatica, such as a herniated disc.
When you combine additional weight with other sciatica risk factors like being older, having a job that requires prolonged sitting or twisting and lifting, or having diabetes, then your chances of disc herniation are even higher.
Reducing the effects of excess body weight
Staying active is both an effective way to shed pounds and to build stronger core muscles, a crucial part of your body’s load spreading mechanisms. When your deep abdominal muscles assist movement, they absorb some of the load that may otherwise fall to the spine to support.
Concentrating on good posture also helps balance your body, particularly if you work long hours in one position. Even something as simple as sitting with a wallet in your back pocket can combine with extra body weight to make your spinal discs more likely to rupture.
When sciatica doesn’t clear on its own, it’s time to see our pain management specialists at Arlington Pain & Therapy. Depending on the nature and progression of your sciatica, your caregiver can develop a treatment plan to reduce your pain and improve mobility, both key factors that help you focus on weight reduction. Call our closest office today to schedule your initial consultation.