5 Ways You May Be Triggering Your Sciatica

If you've identified medical causes for your sciatica but have lingering pain, or if you are experiencing sciatica pain without any of the common risk factors, there are several unassuming triggers that may be lurking in your lifestyle. Make sure you limit or stop the following habits and behaviors.


High Heels and Uncushioned Shoes

Women putting on high heels
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Wearing high heels and uncushioned shoes are another “word on the street” sciatica trigger. It’s quite possible that ground forces generated while you walk or stand may transfer up your lower extremity to the structures of your back and hip.

Plus, high heels throw your weight forward, which in turn may cause you to flex forward at the hips; this is your body's way of staying upright. The problem is this is also the pelvic movement that stretches the hamstrings in back. Because the sciatic nerve runs down along the same route as the hamstrings, this chronically stretched position may also stretch (and irritate) your sciatica.


Wallets, Cell Phones, and Credit Cards in Your Back Pocket

Wallet in back pocket.
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Sitting, especially for prolonged periods of time, with your wallet in your back pocket can irritate your piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve courses under this muscle, which may become pressured by your wallet. When this happens, the sciatic nerve may also become pressured. In 1978, M.D. Elmar Lutz described two case studies of this phenomenon and named it “Credit Card - Wallet Sciatica.” Wallet sciatica is also called back pocket sciatica.

In the 21st century, there is a new potential irritant for back pocket sciatica causes—the cell phone. 

Orly Avitzur, M.D. specializes in neurology. In an article for Consumer Reports entitled "Cell-phone sciatica is a pain in the butt” says: "Cell-phone sciatica can now join several related nerve compression syndromes, including wallet sciatica, credit-card sciatica, and back-pocket sciatica.”

“Pressing any hard object against the derrière, home of the sciatic nerve, is a bad idea,” she adds.


Putting Stress on Yourself

Worried woman.
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Stress is a mind-body trigger for sciatica, according to Dr. John Sarno. Sarno, who was a Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, and Attending Physician at The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center, had, for years, been advocating for an approach to diagnosing and managing back pain that is based on our emotions rather than things that can be picked up on an MRI or determined from a diagnostic injection. Needless to say, not all members of the conventional medical establishment have proven supportive of his simple, patient-centric focus on back pain relief.

Sarno says that it’s the people who put pressure on themselves—especially Type A people pleasers—who are most at risk for sciatica.

When explaining sciatica, Sarno asserts that rather than nerve damage in the low back, the brain deprives the nerves of oxygen (in a mild way,) which results in the same symptoms. These are, of course, pain down your leg, weakness, and other electrical sensations.


Tight Jeans and Underwear

Legs and feet of young male urban skateboarder standing on sidewalk
Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images

Medical research is generally not the place to turn to for guidance on clothing, but that doesn’t stop social media. In one Facebook discussion group, several people agreed that both tight jeans and underwear with tight elastic can trigger a bout of sciatica.

Perhaps it’s time for some sweats.

And ladies, when it comes to underwear, maybe thong style is the way to go.


Being Overweight or Obese

High Angle View Of Donuts In Box
Aminata Conde / EyeEm/Getty

Being overweight is another way to put pressure on your sciatic nerve. A study assessing associations between being overweight and having sciatica and/or lumbar radiculopathy found a dose-dependent relationship between the two. In other words, the more overweight you are, the higher your risk for sciatica.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lutz EG. Credit-card-wallet sciaticaJAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 1978;240(8):738. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290080028012.

  2. Consumer Reports. Cell-phone sciatica is a pain in the butt.

  3. Medscape. An expert interview with Dr. John Sarno, part I: Back pain is a state of mind.

  4. Shiri R, Lallukka T, Karppinen J, Viikari-Juntura E. Obesity as a risk factor for sciatica: A meta-analysisAmerican Journal of Epidemiology. 2014;179(8):929-937. doi:10.1093/aje/kwu007.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.