sciatica sitting

The Relationship Between Sciatica and Prolonged Sitting In The Office

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Sciatica refers to a medical condition characterized by pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body, running from the lower back down through the buttocks and into each leg. Sciatica typically affects only one side of the body. In this article, we explore the relation between sciatica and prolonged sitting.

sciatica sitting

I have been experiencing Sciatica like symptoms after sitting for more than an hour, is it true that prolonged sitting will cause sciatica?

There is a correlation between prolonged sitting and sciatica, but it’s important to understand that sitting itself may not directly cause sciatica. Instead, prolonged sitting can exacerbate or contribute to the development of sciatica, especially if certain conditions or risk factors are already present. Here are 3 reasons why sciatica can be related to prolonged sitting:

1) Compression of the Sciatic Nerve from sitting

When you sit for extended periods, especially with poor posture or on an unsupportive chair, it can lead to increased pressure on the sciatic nerve or the structures surrounding it. This compression can cause or worsen sciatic nerve irritation and lead to sciatica symptoms, such as pain, tingling, or numbness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.

2) Muscle Imbalances

Prolonged sitting can lead to weakened core and hip muscles, which can affect the stability of the lower back and pelvis. Muscle imbalances and weakness in the hip and gluteal muscles can put additional stress on the sciatic nerve, making it more susceptible to irritation and inflammation.

3) Reduced Blood Flow

Sitting for long periods can impede blood flow to the lower back and legs, potentially reducing the oxygen and nutrient supply to the nerves in that area. This diminished blood flow may contribute to nerve irritation and symptoms associated with sciatica.

My job is predominantly sitting from 9am – 6pm, how can I prevent sciatica from happening? 

To reduce the impact of prolonged sitting on sciatica:

  • Take regular breaks from sitting and stand, stretch, or walk for a few minutes every hour.
  • Maintain good posture while sitting, using an ergonomic chair and supporting your lower back.
  • Engage in regular exercise, particularly activities that strengthen the core and hip muscles.
  • Use proper body mechanics when lifting heavy objects or performing activities that strain the lower back.
  • Incorporate activities like stretching to improve flexibility and reduce tension in the lower back and hips.

How will Physiotherapy help with the management of Sciatica Pain?

The best physiotherapy management for sciatica involves a combination of therapeutic techniques aimed at reducing pain, improving mobility, and promoting healing. Several research studies have investigated the effects of massage therapy on sciatica:

  • A study published in the journal “Pain Medicine” in 2014 found that massage therapy combined with other interventions was effective in reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic sciatica.
  • A randomized controlled trial published in the “Annals of Family Medicine” in 2014 showed that massage therapy, in combination with other treatments, provided significant improvement in pain and function in patients with acute sciatica.
  • Another study published in the “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics” in 2018 demonstrated that massage therapy, when added to standard care, was effective in reducing pain intensity and improving functional outcomes in patients with sciatica.

“When I have developed sciatica-like symptoms, can I exercise?

There is strong evidence supporting the use of exercises as an effective management strategy for sciatica. Exercise programs designed to target specific muscle groups and promote mobility, flexibility, and strength have been shown to provide significant pain relief and functional improvements for individuals with sciatica that are sitting for long durations at work. Here are some key points backed by evidence regarding exercises and sciatica management:

  1. Reduction in Pain: Exercise therapy, when appropriately prescribed and performed, can lead to a reduction in sciatica-related pain. Strengthening exercises, in particular, have been shown to improve pain outcomes by providing better support to the lower back and reducing pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  2. Improved Function and Mobility: Sciatica can restrict movement and function due to pain and muscle weakness. Evidence suggests that exercise programs, including targeted stretches and functional movements, can enhance mobility and improve functional abilities in daily activities.
  3. Prevention of Recurrence: Regular exercise can help prevent future episodes of sciatica by improving the strength and flexibility of the muscles supporting the spine and promoting better posture and body mechanics.
  4. Non-Invasive Approach: Exercise therapy is a non-invasive and relatively low-cost treatment option for managing sciatica compared to more invasive interventions like surgery or injections.
  5. Positive Effects on Psychological Well-being: Engaging in regular exercise can have positive effects on psychological well-being, reducing stress and anxiety often associated with chronic pain conditions like sciatica.

Seek Physiotherapy Treatment for Sciatica Exacerbated by Long Hours of Sitting

If you are experiencing sciatica that is made worse by long hours sitting at work, our physiotherapist team can help. Contact us to make an appointment today!

Content contributed by: Ken Liew, Principal Physiotherapist