The Relation Between Bad Walking and Sciatica: Explained
It is the little things that build up over time to cause big effects; many small ripples create a wave. We often don’t realize that things that we do not pay much attention to in our lives such as our posture while sitting or the way we sleep, that can lead to wide range of problems as we age and there is more wear and tear in our body.
One of the simplest things that we do every day is walk. We are often unaware that an exercise, that most learn to do well by the time they are 15 months old, can be done incorrectly. We only come to the realization when it leads to sciatica.
What is sciatica?
It is the pain that radiates down the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest single nerve in the human body and moves down from the hips and lower back to the posterior foot. It supplies the skin over the entire leg and innervates the muscles in the back of the thigh and the legs and foot. It has roots from spinal nerves L4-S3 and, branches from the anterior and posterior lumbosacral plexus.
Symptoms include pain radiating down from the lower back to the leg. There can also be numbness or weakness of the affected leg.
How does it occur?
It happens when there is pressure on the roots of the nerve. It is usually due to some sort of body pressing down on the nerve roots, causing it to compress and pinch. The foreign body can be a herniated disc, muscles or the bone. Standing can give the affected person a bit of relief because it aligns the bones better and in a way that it does not irritate the nerve anymore.
Before attributing sciatica to a bad walking pattern it would be best to consult a doctor who can rule out other more severe and important causes. The main causes include:
- 90% is due to lumbar disc herniation
- Spondylolisthesis: displacement of the spinal vertebrae
- Spinal stenosis: abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal
- Piriformis syndrome: nerve compression by the piriformis muscle
All these conditions can be diagnosed by medical imaging techniques such as MRI for herniation and other soft tissue structures and X ray for vertebrae displacement.
The wrong walking patterns:
The pathway of the sciatic nerve can be affected by many things. Walking is one of them. The ‘wrong’ way of walking can lead to compression of the nerve due to the incorrect positioning and locking of the bones. Here are some wrong ways to walk:
- The Extra Curvature: People, who walk like this, protrude their abdomen out in a way that increases the curving of the lower back. While this can simply be a mistake, it is often done on purpose in an attempt to make their behinds look curvier. This lordotic posture leads to several changes:
- hip and buttock muscles become weakened and underactive
- thigh muscles become overactive to support the spine
- facet joints of the spine have extra load on them
- The Hunchback (of Kyphotic Posture): This posture entails bending of the spine in a way that your chest is titled forward. Some people also bend their neck forward too. This causes an increase in pressure on the abdominal and core muscles.
- The Swayback: This happens when the hips are moved forwards and the upper back is moved backwards. This pelvic tilt forward leads to an increase in the natural curvature of the spine. It adds extra stress on the lower back muscles and this leads to them becoming tired due to over activity.
- The Flat Back: This is the opposite of the swayback, in a way, that there is reduction in the curvature of the natural spine. It causes:
- Increases pressure on the lower vertebrae
- May weaken the lower back, hip, buttock and thigh muscles.
These walking patterns can exacerbate the pain that you might already have by increasing pressure on the nerve roots. They can also indirectly lead to sciatica by encouraging herniated discs and growth spurts that compress nerve roots.
To prevent walking from leading to sciatica, it is important that one walks properly. To do so we need to keep the following things in mind:
Your neck should be in alignment with your upper spine such that your head is straight. There should be no forward or backward tilts. The ears should be straight up from the shoulders, such that the ears are parallel to the shoulders.
Your strides should be short; take smaller steps. An important way to do this is to walk heel to toes. This means when you walk and raise your foot, the heel should make contact with the ground before the toes do. And when you raise your foot to take the next step, the rise should be toe to heel. Use your toes and the front of your foot to push you on to your next step
You should walk slow. Now only will this shorten your strides, it will also stop you from over exerting yourself. Take a note of your breathing. Make sure you are taking deep breaths. In the event, that you do get tired or breathless. Stop! Take a break. There is no need to push your body through this.
Minimize the pressure on your spine by actively engaging your core muscles. For the time period of your walking, it would be good to suck in your stomach a bit. This activates your abdominal muscles.
If after doing the above mentioned things and correcting wrong actions, you still experience sciatic pain, then it would be best to consult a doctor who can provide you with more insight regarding your disease. Any flare ups that happen should also be reported to the doctor along with any other factors that alleviate or exacerbate the pain.