Without question, one of the leading causes of sciatica is excess body weight. Sciatica is a condition that describes the symptoms that arise as a result of the compression of the sciatic nerve, and this compression typically originates in the lumbar spine where the sciatic nerve branches off the spinal cord. The reason body weight becomes an issue is because the lumbar spine, while extremely strong and flexible, is particularly susceptible to spinal degeneration as a result of supporting the entire upper body, as well as years of wear and tear. The degeneration can be accelerated and worsened as a result of obesity, or simply from carrying a few extra pounds.
The spinal column
The lumbar spine is a highly complex, tightly compacted region of the body that requires several anatomical components to work in unison to allow for the full range of motion required from the back. With time, these elements deteriorate, which can have a snowball effect in the spinal column. Sciatica develops when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed, often as a result of spinal degeneration. Here are some examples of degenerative changes that can affect the sciatic nerve:
- Intervertebral discs can bulge, meaning the disc wall expands beyond its normal position and constricts a nerve
- Intervertebral discs can rupture, allowing disc material to seep into the spinal column and irritate nerve infrastructure
- The vertebral joints in the spine can become arthritic, causing inflammation and bone spur formation — two side effects that can impact nerves
- A vertebral body can slide out of position, reducing the space available for nerves
- The spinal canal or foraminal canals can become constricted with herniated disc material, bone spurs and other anatomical material
While these changes are often unavoidable, there is mounting evidence that lifestyle factors — such as being overweight — can make an individual more susceptible to developing significant problems earlier in life.
Typically, when a patient experiences sciatic pain, a physician will recommend a conservative treatment plan to alleviate the nerve compression. One of the most common components of this treatment plan is usually shedding excess body fat and strengthening the muscles that support the lower back. If, however, this approach fails to deliver acceptable results, you might consider the many treatment options we offer at USA Spine Care. To learn about our many minimally invasive procedures, contact us today.