The discomfort commonly associated with sciatica usually extends from the lower back to the lower extremities. This is referred to as lumbar radiculopathy. One of the more common sources of numbness, tingling, leg pain, muscle weakness, and other common nerve-based sciatica symptoms is a herniated disc in the lower back. Today, we’re going to focus on four things you can do to prevent sciatica from developing if your Santa Monica spine surgeon has already given you a diagnosis of a herniated lower spine disc.
The load on your lower spinal discs increases about 40 percent when you sit for long periods or repeatedly bend. Your discs are especially susceptible to injury when you shift to other movements or activities after sitting/bending. Minimize this risk by:
• Not doing high-energy tasks after long periods of sitting/bending
• Not lifting anything heavy or awkward after sitting for a long time—such as what might happen if you pick up your luggage after a long flight
• Standing up straight for a few minutes after sitting to stretch your lower back and give your spinal discs time to reshape and adjust
From doing household chores to picking up kids and doing work-related tasks, you probably bend a lot more than you realize. When you do have to bend, it’s important to maintain your lower back’s spinal arch to avoid overstressing a spinal disc that’s already herniated and a potential source of sciatic nerve irritation. Accomplish this goal by:
• Bending at your knees, not your waist
• Pivoting at your hips as you lean forward
• Doing the “golfer’s lift” by reaching down without bending your knees while one leg comes up and extends backward as the opposite hip bends
• Pushing and not pulling when moving heavy objects
• Using a footstool to rest one leg on if you have to lean forward and stand for a while, such as when doing the dishes
• Not stooping, slouching, or hunching when you bend
Ease stress on all your spinal discs by taking advantage of assistive devices. Options include:
You can also use a pillow to prevent sciatica when you sleep if you have a herniated disc. If you’re a side sleeper, place the pillow between your legs to retain your spine’s alignment. If you’re a back sleeper, put it under your knees.
You may experience relief from a herniated disc if you stretch your lower back muscles. Specifically, focus on back extension exercises that allow you to safely bend your spine backward to relieve disc pressure. These exercises may also help you concentrate any existing sciatica pain you might have to make it easier for the affected disc to heal. But avoid exercises that require repetitive forward bending or twisting. Work with a physical therapist or other licensed professional to learn how to do back extensions correctly so you don’t do more harm than good.
If you have lingering pain from a herniated disc or notice signs of sciatica, talk to your doctor or a spine specialist if your symptoms are getting worse or not going away with self-care efforts. If you have a serious issue with a damaged disc, your spine specialist may recommend a surgical procedure such as lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica patients are often able to manage sciatica with medication, therapeutic exercises, or progressive exercise programs designed to prevent symptoms from coming back or worsening.
If you think you may have sciatica due to a herniated disc, don’t hesitate to call on a spine specialist for diagnosis and treatment. The pioneering physicians at The Spine Institute have years of experience treating every cause of neck and back pain, so give us a call at 310-828-7757 today to schedule a consultation.