I’ve heard this many times. “I’m overweight and if I would only lose the weight my lower back problems along with sciatica would go away.” I even had an acquaintance once told me this exact thing to my face.
But how? Would it work? It’s not like I didn’t want to lose weight but when you deal with pain, how can you exercise as much as you have to in order to lose the pounds? Which takes us to this: if you’re not exercising then what ARE you doing? Sitting. Obese, overweight, healthy weight or not…..sitting is the worst thing you can do for sciatica.
After some research that I did on my own about this, more and more I realize how losing weight can take the pressure off of your back thus relieving the pressure. Following are some of the things that I learned during my extensive research for this very problem.
Why sitting and gaining weight doesn’t help sciatica
I was an office worker all my life. I traveled to and from work for years which required hours of traffic sitting in my car. After the car accident, this made traveling and sitting at work increasingly difficult to do. But I’m not rich guys, I had to work and drive there and back whether I was in pain or not. This made my pain worst.
I sat all day and all I wanted to do was, go home, take some ibuprofen for the pain, and go to bed. Soon the weight started to pile on. Between the stress and lack of activity, the weight came on fast. Before long I could not handle the pain anymore. Little I knew that sitting was possibly the worst thing I could do for my problem, not only that but gaining weight was adding to the stress too.
I feel like the weight made my posture worse while sitting, so between the bad posture and weight, which were terrible combinations, exacerbated my problem. Of course, I did not know this at the time.
After years of pain and a very recent bout of sciatica, which I could only describe as the most violent, excruciating, and debilitating episode I have ever had in my life. The kind that makes you want to ask the doctor to just cut your leg off, yes that bad. I decided to dig deep for this elusive cure to sciatica. Do you feel the same as I do? No one doctor gives you the same solution to sciatica, everyone says something different, everyone has a different exercise or a different type of medication for you. I feel like it was up to me to find some relief of this sciatica pain that was taking over my life. This goes for other medical issues I have dealt with in the past. More in that in later posts.
The last straw was when I had to wait three months for this magical appointment at the Spine Institute, I thought for sure they must have the answer and all I could do was just burst into tears so the doctor can see how absolutely horrible I felt. It’s not what I planned I actually prayed not to cry but I couldn’t hold it in anymore. He was very nice and very patient with me and scheduled a trigger point injection as a first step, I agreed and made the appointment. On my next appointment, I begged the doctor with 39 years of spine experience to tell me and added that I promised I will not say a word to anyone on what to do if he were me and this is what he said: “work on your core and lose weight”.
So there it was again…lose weight.
I went home that day and looked up the research, any research that I could find linking sciatica and leg pain with obesity. I found several research papers on this very topic and one was titled “Obesity as a risk factor for sciatica” and when I looked at the very end of that research paper it was very clear what it said “ Our findings consistently showed that both overweight and obesity are risk factors for lumbar radicular pain and sciatica in men and women”. It was there plain as day. I started to see a common theme, any ”heaviness” or pressure on the spine would make my condition worse. The heavier I was, the more pressure on the nerve. The same went for sitting, the more sitting the more pressure it was on a very sensitive sciatica.
So I sat less and tweaked my diet. I was already on a ketogenic diet but not super serious about it.
Will losing weight help relieve sciatic nerve pain?
In my experience, losing weight would help in every aspect of your life, but in terms of sciatic nerve pain: while you have it, you can’t think of anything else. It’s hard to lose weight because you are in so much pain and you just can’t move as freely as you’d like, so you become very inactive. If you have sciatica you know it’s hard to concentrate on losing weight or anything of any importance in your life because the pain overshadows everything and it becomes the only thing you can think about.
That being said, you can change the way that you eat. I personally love the low-carb lifestyle, I don’t know if I’m in ketosis, as in the ketogenic diet, but I do tend to eat low-carb. I remember when I was recovering from an ankle issue, I could not walk and was in a boot, all I wanted to do was lose weight so I started researching on the Internet, how to lose weight without having to exercise, because it seemed like every time I would start exercising I would get injured once again and would be in recovery (again!) over six months or more sometimes.
As I researched for a diet that required no exercise, which I thought was a preposterous idea at the time, I found information on many people that were successful in losing weight with a low carb diet. It was great news for me and I’m sure for people that have disabilities or some other problem, or injury that would not let them exercise otherwise, and this is what I found: First, I read about a doctor that developed a diet that restricted grains. He wrote a book called the Wheat Belly. Second, I researched before and after pictures of people on a low-carb diet, I know weird but I need proof, and I stumbled upon this one lady that lost weight, looked great and she included recipes to jumpstart the diet. That was the beginning of my low-carb lifestyle. At first, my husband did not believe that I would lose weight eating fat and avoiding grains, especially because in previous years I could not lose weight on any diet at all so this was, to him, one other diet to add to my growing list. He was right, but this was different.
I did lose weight!! For the first time, I lost weight on a diet. For the first two weeks, I lost 5 pounds which was crazy for me. After that, I just kept losing weight with no exercise with a sprained ankle and I ended up losing about 30 pounds in the end and kept it off staying away from sugar and grains.
Fast forward to today, dealing with sciatic pain and knowing what I read in the research which shows losing weight can help sciatic pain, but if you know pain from the static nerve you’ll know what I mean when I say: all I could focus on was my pain so the pounds came on. I gained about 20 pounds so far but I just got better enough to re-focus on my diet and concentrate on getting better.
That being said, as you have noticed I have gained those 20 pounds back and have not lost 1 pound of those 20 but I am getting better from the nerve pain. I know what research says, it is good to have a healthy weight, but I believe with my situation there are other factors involved, I have improved my pain by using poses that require getting down to floor level and getting up from the floor so if you’re overweight and have sciatica that doesn’t feel so great. I do have to say also that the weight issue makes recovery harder and perhaps take longer than necessary. It puts extra strain on your body that’s unnecessary, in my opinion, it makes you get tired faster too because that’s how I felt. Losing weight would help the healing process I’m sure. Sort of a “catch 22” in my opinion. You gain weight because you can’t move and you can’t lose it because you’re not moving.
I’m fat with sciatica and anxiety
It’s been about 4 weeks since I started feeling better, not perfect but better. Have I lost weight? No. To the contrary I have gained more. I’m less active in fact, old habits creeping in again. Felt so good I just want to socialize and when I do that I eat along with the others. Hey I’m better now, I’m not this depressed beast crying and rolling on the floor frantically searching the internet for information anymore. I almost see a glimpse of my old self just chunkier. Friends ask me how I feel I can’t help but say a little better and I don’t give any more information only because I’m traumatized with the whole ordeal. I can’t help but think, is this for real? will I go back to how I was before? I’m not perfect by no means but the thought creeps up all day. Hope my friends don’t think I’m not too evasive.
With this new found anxiety I eat, so I get slower, and I get sleepier. Wish I could say it’s easy here’s the formula go do it but it’s more complicated then that. All I know is that I’m better, could it have been a shorter recovery time period? Perhaps. Was weight a factor I think so. If I would have know that I would have given it a better try but like I said before the pain consumes you it’s all you think about day and all night, because you don’t sleep. You could care less what you eat, you just want the pain to stop. When my friend asked me what sciatica felt like I told them it was worst then giving birth. At least labor comes to a stop at some point, sciatica is just a gnawing, relentless pain that does not improve no matter what position you get into. Now that’s depressing and that’s the anxiety I now deal with. Going back to that would be a nightmare, I would assume that’s why I just can’t get back on track with my weight. Sort of a “better party now” attitude because I might be back there again, and when I say party I mean eat whatever I want, like a sadistic reward of sorts. I know I should just enjoy the relief from pain that I currently have. Just have to make sure I stay that way and I’m truly working on it.
In my next article I will discuss different types of injections I had for sciatica, did they work, were they painful, what type of situations would an insurance company decide to pay for these injections. Was it worth it or not.
Please let me know if you have any questions, use the comment area and let me know in what stage of sciatica are you in. Would love to hear your opinion on this article and even some suggestions on what you’d like to read about.
2 thoughts on “Does obesity cause sciatica?”
Hi, my name is Rose am 25 and I suffer from lumbosciatica, am obese, and losing weight is the first thing I’ve been told to do, but the pain is too much, I can’t walk that far without bending over, and I can’t drive anymore sometimes, and some night I can’t find any position I feel comfortable, I’ve been to the doctor and she gave me some medicaments but I don’t see any improvement, when they did the tests it turned out I have anemia too, and I just don’t know what to do anymore, am tired all the time, and I can’t move without pain.
Rose, I’m so sorry you are going through that you can contact me via email at email@example.com. What helped me was a book by a therapist Robin McKenzie “Treat your Own Back” and my last article, which I just posted, I mention some other information that was of help to me. In my next article I will be explaining how and why this book helped me so much. I got an old copy from the library myself or you can get it on ebay or amazon.
Please feel free to email me anytime. I truly am so sorry, I know all too well what you are going through! Best, Sandy