Are You at Risk for Sciatica Pain?

There are many factors that can contribute to sciatica. The condition causes pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, and loss of reflexes in the lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. Sometimes sciatica is caused by degenerative conditions, like arthritis—and lifestyle factors are at play, as well.

Radiculopathy is a condition in which a nerve root in the spinal column is compressed. Sciatica is a type of lumbar (lower spine) radiculopathy in which the sciatic nerve is compressed.

Sciatica refers to pain down one leg.

Age as Sciatica Risk Factor

The most common causes of sciatica change with age. Sciatica most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.

It may happen with any sudden pressure on the disks that cushion bones of the lower spine, such as during work activities or exercise. Physical activities, including sports, heavy lifting, and repeated movements can lead to injuries or inflammation that affect the sciatic nerve. Pregnancy is another cause of sciatica,

With advancing age, medical conditions can lead to structural changes that can bring on sciatica due to effects on the intervertebral discs, bone spurs, and spinal stenosis.

Spine and Disc Disease

Common diseases that affect the spine and intravertebral discs tend to develop gradually. Once the pressure on the sciatic nerve reaches a certain threshold, symptoms can begin.

Conditions that can lead to sciatic nerve pressure:

Any of these conditions can also make the spine more susceptible to injury.

A Sedentary Lifestyle

While injuries from activities can damage your spine, sitting as a regular habit ups your sciatica risk too.

You might sit for prolonged periods of time every day while working at a computer, driving, or lounging. 

A big reason that sitting can lead to sciatica is that sitting compresses your spine and discs, which may irritate a spinal nerve root. Another reason is that sitting may put pressure on the sciatic nerve directly.

Physical Injuries

At any age, a physical injury can lead to sciatica. Activities like competitive sports, exercising, physically demanding jobs, frequent lifting, or twisting the spine can increase the risk of a herniated disc, which can cause sudden symptoms of sciatica. For example, vibration from operating a jackhammer is a work-related risk.

If you have disease or degeneration of your spine or discs, or if your muscles are weak, you could be at an increased risk of sciatica, even without an injury.

Other Risk factors

If you have health factors that lead to excess pressure on your sciatic nerve, you could be at increased risk of sciatica.

Factors that can increase pressure on the sciatic nerve:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Scoliosis
  • Severe weakness on one side of the body, which can occur due to cerebral palsy or a stroke

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of these risk factors. They may detect signs of sciatica (such as mild reflex changes or sensory loss) before symptoms begin. Physical therapy or home exercises may help prevent the progression of pressure so you won't have damage to your sciatic nerve.

7 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. Beynon R, Elwenspoek MMC, Sheppard A, et al. The utility of diagnostic selective nerve root blocks in the management of patients with lumbar radiculopathy: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2019;9(4):e025790. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025790

  2. Shiri R, Euro U, Heliövaara M, et al. Lifestyle Risk Factors Increase the Risk of Hospitalization for Sciatica: Findings of Four Prospective Cohort Studies. Am J Med. 2017;130(12):1408-1414.e6. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.06.027

  3. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sciatica.

  4. Atlas SJ. Taming the pain of sciatica: For most people, time heals and less is more. Harvard Health Publishing.

  5. Adams MA, Dolan P. Intervertebral disc degeneration: evidence for two distinct phenotypesJ Anat. 2012;221(6):497-506. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7580.2012.01551.x

  6. John Hopkins Medicine. Lumbar spinal stenosis.

  7. Euro U, Heliövaara M, Shiri R, et al. Work-related risk factors for sciatica leading to hospitalizationSci Rep. 2019;9(1):6562. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-42597-w

Additional Reading
  • Bernard, B., M.D., M.P.H. Low Back Musculoskeletal Disorders: Evidence for Work Relatedness. Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors - NIOSH Publication 97-141.

  • Kendall, F., McCreary, E., & Provance, P. Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

  • Kinser, C., & Colby, L. Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques.Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

  • Miranda, H., Viikari-Juntura, E., Martikainen, R., Takala, E.P., Riihimaki, H., Individual factors, occupational loading, and physical exercise as predictors of sciatica pain. Spine.

  • NINDS. Piriformis Syndrome Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web Last Updated.

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