Ergonomics and Sciatica

Written by Stewart G. Eidelson, MD

Ergonomics is the study of the physical demands of work in all kinds of jobs and environments. What does this have to do with sciatica? A lot, actually! If you have sciatica, you know low back, buttock, and leg pain can make working painfully difficult. Applying simple ergonomic principles to everyday activities, such as using a sit-to-stand desk or readjusting your sitting posture, may help get you through the workweek with less pain.

Take a Seat 
Sitting for long periods of time isn't good for your spine or your sciatica pain. If possible, stand up every 20 minutes and walk a couple of laps around your workspace.

Make sitting more tolerable by choosing a well-designed ergonomic chair. You can also add low back support by placing a lumbar pillow or even a rolled-up towel at the base of your chair.

Other simple tips to reduce sciatica pain while sitting:

Take a Stand
Varying your posture is a smart way to care for your spine on the job, so mix it up when it comes to sitting and standing. Sitting all day has been connected to an array of health problems beyond back pain, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The potential benefits of incorporating standing into your work routine are numerous. To name a few:

One of the easiest ways to transition from a sitting to standing work posture is using a sit-stand desk (or sit-to-stand desk). A sit-stand desk allows you to adjust your desk height so you can work seamlessly from sitting to standing. If you’re thinking of investing in this type of equipment, read about whether a sit-stand desk is right for you.

While standing at work is important, avoid standing in one place for a long time. If your job requires standing, try resting one foot on a small sturdy box or stool. Alternate every 10 to 15 minutes.

A note for standing with sciatica: Take special care when you go from sitting to standing when you have sciatica. Don't bend at the waist to get up from your chair. Bending at the waist can stretch and aggravate an already irritable sciatic nerve. Instead, slide to the front of your seat and stand up by straightening your legs.

Stay Close to Work 
Keep your work close to avoid bending forward. Again, forward bending can aggravate your sciatic nerve. Keep your shoulders relaxed, and rest your elbows and arms on the desk.

Tech Tips for Computer Users
Creating a sciatica-friendly computer workstation is easy. Consider these three tips:

  1. Position the monitor in front of you at eye level.
  2. Keep the keyboard and mouse close—you should avoid reaching.
  3. Choose a chair that provides good back support.

By incorporating each point, you can avoid leaning (or slumping) forward.

Muscle Smarts with Sciatica
Avoid or limit movements that require muscular force, such as pushing a sofa or picking up a table. Carrying a purse, briefcase, groceries, or luggage can present a challenge. A good tip is to carry an equal amount of weight in each hand. This might be a good time to rid your purse or briefcase of unnecessary items.

At the End of the Day, Your Mattress Matters 
After a long day, you want to get off your feet and rest. However, what you rest your back on can affect how good—or bad—you feel the next day. If your mattress is soft and lumpy, your spine will not be properly supported, leading to muscle fatigue and a poor night's sleep.

Whether by adding a sit-stand desk to your office environment or simply repositioning your computer monitor, you can create a better work space to relieve your sciatica. However, if you’ve found that these measures—in addition to a little time, ice and heat, and over-the-counter medications—don't help reduce your low back and leg pain, you should see your doctor. He or she can determine what is causing your sciatica and will develop a treatment plan to get you back on track quickly.

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Sciatica: Symptoms and Possible Causes