If you suffer from sciatica, we don’t need to tell you how painful it can be.
The last thing on your mind is likely to be exercise, but sciatica and weight loss are closely linked.
Studies show that losing weight can improve our sciatica symptoms, and the right exercises can help reduce the pain associated with it.
Today we’ve assembled everything you need to understand sciatica—how it’s caused, what it looks like, and what you can do to push through and achieve your weight loss goals.
What Is Sciatica and How Is It Caused?
Sciatica is nerve pain—related to the sciatic nerve—that radiates from the lower back, commonly through the buttocks and backs of the legs. The sciatic nerve runs down the back of each leg, and branches off into your feet and toes.
Sciatica is such a common lower back issue, especially for those of us aged between 30 and 50. The symptoms may come and go, but it is easy to compound the problem while we wait for it to go away on its own.
Causes of Sciatica
The most common cause is a herniated disc in the lower back. The gelatinous center of the disc can bulge, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Some other causes might be:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
- Isthmic spondylolisthesis
- Piriformis syndrome
Common Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica symptoms will generally relate to sensation—or lack of it—in the lower back, butt, and above the knee. In some cases, it can extend to the lower legs, feet, and toes.
Sciatic pain might feel like shooting pain that tweaks the lower back and buttocks, or like a persistent burning pain in those areas. It can also feel like a constant ache in the hips, rear, and legs.
You might experience numbness in the backs of your legs or tailbone, which can spread to numbness in the feet and toes. It is important to see your doctor immediately if you experience this issue.
Symptoms of sciatica might be aggravated when you sit down for long periods, bend down to pick something up, or when you lift yourself out of bed. Twisting, coughing, or carrying heavy objects can also aggravate your symptoms.
It is fairly normal for sciatica to affect one leg, and to get a feeling of heaviness or pins-and-needles on one side of your lower body.
You may feel slight weakness in your hips or thighs, which comes and goes. If you notice weakness below the knees or in your feet, you should speak with your doctor straight away.
Sciatica and Weight Loss
Sciatica and weight loss can be a catch-22 situation.
Weight loss has been proven to help ease sciatica symptoms and take pressure off the sciatic nerve. But, sciatica makes it difficult for us to exercise, so weight loss is harder.
Fortunately, this isn’t a trap you need to get caught up in. Here’s what we know.
Sciatica and Exercise
Sciatica is aggravated by pressure on the lower back and pelvic area. The aim should be to avoid straining this area. Sitting is also less beneficial for sciatica sufferers, so aim for gentle exercise that avoids combining these things.
It probably goes without saying that high-impact exercise—like running—and contact sports—like rugby or football—will exacerbate your symptoms and potentially cause more damage.
Rowing, crunches, and spin classes should be avoided, too. The main reason we suggest avoiding these exercises is because of the hunched posture you need to adapt to perform them, which strains your lower back. Secondly, it can be difficult to maintain the correct form for your spinal health while you exercise.
If you’re looking for strong exercise options for sciatica sufferers, we’ve got you covered in the next section.
Weight loss for sciatic pain
One study has shown that for every excess pound of body weight we carry, we add four pounds of pressure on our spine. If you tend to carry excess weight around your stomach, this puts more pressure on your spine than if you carry it in your hips and thighs.
Similarly, obesity can delay our ability to heal our muscles and spinal discs.
It makes sense that if we are overweight, we aim to reduce our weight for all the benefits that can bring. So how do we do it when we suffer from sciatica?
The key to weight loss for sciatica sufferers is to focus on a healthy, calorie-controlled diet that works for your body, and low-impact, lower-back friendly exercise.
Exercises to Try For Back Pain
A controlled, challenging exercise plan—tailored specifically to sciatica—is a strong part of your weight loss plan.
The goal is to avoid further injury, and strengthen the muscles in our lower back as we heal. A strong focus should be put on building core muscle strength for our lower back and abdominal muscles.
Secondly, we want to focus on low-impact aerobic work. There are several swimming pool exercises for lower back pain, which support your body weight as you work out. Brisk walking on soft surfaces—like grass—can also be really beneficial. Yoga and tai chi are a strong choice for mindful strength and flexibility building.
Finally, almost all forms of sciatica can benefit from hamstring stretches. When our hamstrings are not supple and relaxed, it causes stress on the lower back. The stress puts you at risk of further strains and slow your healing.
70% of us are likely to suffer from sciatica at some point in our lives. Fortunately, it heals given time and proper care, or with some very simple, professional sciatica treatment.
With good self-care and some solid decisions, sciatica doesn’t need to stand in the way of your weight loss goals. Adjusting your exercise routine to accommodate your short-term nerve injury, and eating smart, can keep you on track despite your setbacks.
Aim high and be patient. And see your doctor if you have concerns about your recovery.