Are You at Risk for Sciatica Pain?

The risk of sciatica increases with age. Sciatica 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

One of the main risk factors for sciatica is getting older. With age, many issues can contribute to spine degeneration. Age-related changes can bring on sciatica due to changes in your intervertebral discs, bone spurs, and spinal stenosis.

  • Degeneration of the intervertebral disc usually starts around the age of 30. 
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine) usually first crops up in people 50 or older.
  • Arthritic changes in the spine, such as bone spurs, can develop after years of arthritis.

Additionally, the discs themselves have begun their descent to vulnerability -- the older you get, the more resilience you've likely lost in your spinal discs.

Sciatic 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 sports. 

A Sedentary Lifestyle

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

You might find yourself sitting for prolonged periods of time while working at a computer, driving a lot, lounging, and the like. 

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

Manual Labor and Your Sciatica Risk

Frequently lifting heavy loads and/or repeatedly twisting the spine is associated with disc herniation, which often results in lumbar radiculopathy.

Another work-related risk factor is vibration, such as operating a jackhammer.

Runners and Endurance Athletes

Runners and other endurance athletes are prone to overuse injuries and inflammation of the piriformis muscle, which is located in the buttock region. During extended periods of running, the piriformis muscle tightens to help you propel you forward. This muscle can spasm and cause buttock pain and may irritate the sciatic nerve, which runs under it.

This irritation is known as piriformis syndrome and its symptoms can mimic sciatica.

Other Groups

Obesity can increase the risk of sciatic due to physical pressure on the nerve. People with diabetes are prone to nerve damage, including damage to the sciatic nerve.

And due to hormonal changes and changes in the position of the baby, the risk of sciatica is increased during pregnancy as well.

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8 Sources
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  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. 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

  5. John Hopkins Medicine. Lumbar spinal stenosis.

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

  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

  8. Cedars Sinai. Piriformis syndrome.

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.