Sciatica is pain that begins in the lower back and often radiates down the backside and into the back of the knee or even the foot. It is generally caused by compression of the sciatic nerve as it exits the spine, often by a bulging or herniated disc, bone spur or misalignment of the spine.
Sciatica is a common condition in people 30-50 years old. Age is beginning to affect their health but they remain active and working.
Some people are more prone to this condition than others. Occupation may be the biggest risk factor.
If your occupation requires repeated lifting of heavy objects, supporting the weight of other people, sitting all day, or leaning over continually, you are at-risk for sciatica.
People Who Lift Things
Construction workers, warehouse employees and others who lift loads repeatedly are putting their back at risk every day. Back pain is extremely common in these kinds of workers, with 30% of people in construction jobs missing work due to neck or back pain.
Others in this category include port employees like stevedores and shippers; factory workers, movers and delivery people, landscapers and firefighters.
For people in these fields, it’s very important that they stretch often and use good form when lifting. That means lifting with the legs, bringing the load as close to the body as possible and keeping the head up while lifting. It also means being smart about asking for help.
People Who Lift People
The jobs of nurses, occupational and physical therapists and other hospital and nursing home clinicians often involve moving or supporting the weight of patients regularly. A 100-pound patient is light, but think of them as a package and you can see how heavy people are. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 80% of all back and shoulder injuries result from moving patients.
Ironically, chiropractors are also in this high-risk category. They tend to be highly aware of their back health and have low rates of injury.
People in these professions must be especially careful to use the available technology, like lifts and slide sheets, and enlist help from other caregivers.
People Who Sit All Day
Any kind of office worker or driver who spends all day sitting is at risk for sciatica. The increase in the number of sciatica cases in this country has coincided with the increase in the percentage of jobs that involve sitting at a desk.
To avoid back pain generally, and sciatica specifically, office workers and drivers should stand up and move around regularly – five minutes every half hour is often recommended.
It is also important to eat a healthy diet and exercise to offset the sedentary office lifestyle. Creating an ergonomic environment in which to work can also minimize the damage done by sitting all day.
People Who Lean Over
Dentists, surgeons, assembly line workers and some construction workers like roofers and carpet installers spend their days leaning over their work and can develop bad back habits. In many cases, the work is mentally taxing, diverting their attention away from their posture and towards the task at hand.
People who work in these fields need to be intentional about caring for their back. They need to find tools that will help them work without the leaning and twisting, and invest in ergonomic supports so that they are better positioned for their work.
Another irony: massage therapists have this issue. Massage training includes significant time spent learning to maximize the comfort of clients while minimizing therapists’ back issues.