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Obesity and Sciatica Pain: Understanding the Connection and the Remedies for These Conditions


While commonly mistaken for lower back pain, sciatica is a specific type of pain caused by an abnormality in the sciatic nerve, the largest and longest nerve in the human body. As the sciatic nerve travels from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and runs down the back of each leg, these are the regions where sciatica pain is typically felt. Sciatica affects about 10-14% of the population, with the most common cause being a herniated or bulging disc among the middle-aged and elderly population. However, its rare occurrence in individuals younger than 20 can be due to physical trauma and injury.

Regardless of the causes and symptoms of sciatica pain, doctors recommend lifestyle modifications such as losing weight. Therefore, it is worth looking into how exactly excess weight gain or obesity can affect sciatica pain and what patients can do to address both conditions and improve their overall quality of life.

How obesity affects sciatica pain

Obesity is a chronic condition associated with an increased risk of developing other health problems like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. However, obesity can also be linked to musculoskeletal disorders since a high body mass index (BMI) and increased fat ratio can increase the spinal load. The pathological pathway for sciatica, particularly, is the excess weight that accumulates in and is carried by the lumbar spine (lower back region). This exerts stress and pressure on this part of the spine, resulting in pain and degeneration over time.

In recognition of obesity as a risk factor for sciatica, a 2021 study in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology found that higher waist circumference, whole-body fat mass, fat-free mass, and fat percentage were all causally associated with the prevalence of sciatica. Although a higher waist-hip ratio can potentially be a protective factor for lower back pain, healthy weight loss remains advisable as spinal loads can increase by up to 15% among severely obese (over 30 BMI) individuals.

How to lose weight and relieve sciatica pain

Do appropriate exercises

Burning calories through physical activity promotes weight loss, but individuals with sciatica should be careful about the type of exercise they do. It’s best to avoid certain exercises that further injure the sciatic nerve, such as straight-leg situps, forward bends, and leg circles that put additional strain on the hamstrings and lower back. Training with heavy weights and rowing machines can also worsen sciatic nerve pain. Instead, stick to gentle stretching exercises and low-impact cardio like walking, swimming, or riding a stationary bike.

Consult with your doctor

Since obesity can be caused by genetic, hormonal, and even psychological factors, dietary changes and exercise habits may not be enough to promote weight loss. In such cases, you can consult with your doctor about anti-obesity medication that can work for your health status and lifestyle and speed up the weight loss process. But does medical weight loss work, such as injections of Semaglutide? The answer is yes. These FDA-approved medications have been proven to result in 5-15% weight loss within the first six months of treatment. This clinically significant weight loss can also be linked to less chronic inflammation, providing long-term relief for your sciatica pain and symptoms.

See a sciatica chiropractor

Sciatica treatment must be focused on restoring and increasing your range of motion, reducing inflammation, and improving blood circulation. All of these can be achieved by seeing a chiropractor specialized in sciatica pain management, as they are trained to offer various treatment options from ultrasound therapy to soft tissue massage therapy. Additionally, if you are a sciatica patient who’s also overweight or obese, chiropractors can also provide dietary advice that promotes both weight loss and anti-inflammation for sciatica.

Ultimately, both obesity and sciatica are complex and life-changing conditions, but your pain and suffering can be alleviated through proper exercise, medication, and chiropractic treatment. Support from family and friends can also make a difference in your journey toward a healthy, pain-free life.  

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