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Who is at Risk for Sciatica?

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Updated October 18, 2009

Question: Who is at Risk for Sciatica?
Certain types of people are at a higher risk for sciatica than others. Lifestyle plays a part in the risk for sciatica but other factors are involved, too. So just who is at risk?
Answer:

There are several groups of people who are more at risk of getting sciatica, and they are detailed below.

Middle-Aged Adults

One of the main risk factors is getting older, since the spine and the body in general begins to experience degeneration. Sciatica can be due to a number of age-related changes, such as spinal disk changes, and to a lesser extent, spinal stenosis and bone spurs.

Degeneration of the intervertebral disk usually starts around the age of 30, so the risk of developing sciatica begins around this time, too. Another condition, spinal stenosis, usually first crops up in people older than 50 and can cause sciatica. Meanwhile, arthritic changes in the spine, such as bone spurs, also increase the risk for sciatica in seniors.

But, overall, it's people between the ages of 30 to 50 who are the most at risk for sciatica. Because of work, social and sports activities, this age group tends to be very active in comparison with older age groups, increasing the likelihood of injury or damage to the spine. Additionally, the disks themselves are more vulnerable to injury -- seniors have less disk material to risk, while the disk material of children and young adults is still quite resilient.

People Who Are Sedentary

Spending extended periods of time sitting poses a risk. This would include people who sit at a computer all day, or drive long hours most days. Sitting for long periods of time puts a lot of pressure on the sciatic nerve, which will irritate it.

People Who Frequently Lift Heavy Objects

Frequently lifting heavy loads and/or twisting the spine repeatedly is a risk factor. Studies have shown that lifting and twisting in a work environment is associated with disk problems.

Walkers and Runners

The two sports that are most likely to increase the risk for sciatica symptoms are walking and running. This is likely due to the repeated contraction of a muscle in the hip called the piriformis muscle, a key muscle used in walking and running. When the piriformis muscle becomes tight, it can cause irritation to the sciatic nerve, which runs under it. During extended periods of walking and running, the piriformis muscle tightens to help you propel yourself forward.

A study conducted in Finland and published in Spine Journal (2002) showed that walking is associated with the onset of sciatica symptoms, while jogging is associated with a continuation of symptoms. The study looked at 327 workers with sciatica, and 2,077 workers without sciatica.

Other Groups: Pregnant Women, Diabetics

People with diabetes are prone to nerve damage, including the sciatic nerve. This increases the diabetic patient's likelihood of experiencing sciatica.

Risk of sciatica is greatly increased during pregnancy, due to hormonal changes and the position of the baby.


Sources:
1 (Jan 25 2006). Piriformis Syndrome Information Page. Retrieved January 14, 2007, from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/piriformis_syndrome/piriformis_syndrome.htm

2 Kendall, F., McCreary, E., & Provance, P. (1993). Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

3 Kinser, C., & Colby, L. (2002). Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques.Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

4 Miranda, H., Viikari-Juntura, E., Martikainen, R., Takala, E.P., Riihimaki, H., (May 15 2002). Individual factors, occupational loading, and physical exercise as predictors of sciatica pain.. Spine. 27(10), 1102-9.

5 Bernard, B., M.D., M.P.H. (ed.)(Jul 1997). Low Back Musculoskeletal Disorders: Evidence for Work Relatedness. Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors - NIOSH Publication 97-141 , Chapt 6, Retrieved Jan 14 2006, from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-141/pdfs/97-141f.pdf

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