Can your job cause sciatica pain?
It’s possible that your job duties could lead to back pain. If your doctor says you have sciatica, you might be able to trace the pain to a work injury or repetitive work duties.
Understanding more about the pain and figuring out why you have it can help you determine if a workers’ comp claim is an option.
Read more to learn how some workplace injuries cause sciatica.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica isn’t the cause of your back problem. It’s a word used to describe one of the symptoms you’re experiencing based on another back injury. It happens when the injury affects your sciatic nerve.
Sciatica usually causes pain on one side that affects your buttock or leg. It can range from a dull ache to severe pain. The pain doesn’t usually affect both sides.
It can also cause burning, tingling, weakness, and numbness.
You’ll often notice that the symptoms are more noticeable when you sit. Some people also have sharp pain when they stand up or walk.
The pain and other symptoms you feel happen because your sciatic nerve becomes irritated.
The nerve goes from your lower back into the back of your legs. The nerves branch out in those areas, which is why you might experience pain in different areas.
Irritation to the nerve often happens due to a back injury. The injury affects the sciatic nerve, causing the symptoms.
Causes of Sciatica
A common cause is a herniated disc. This happens when the nucleus of a spinal disc pops out through a tear or rupture in its outer covering. The bulging nucleus can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica.
Herniated discs often due to natural degeneration, but they can also result from an injury, such as a fall. You can also have a herniated disc due to a repetitive use injury.
If you’ve fallen at work or experienced another workplace injury to your back that caused a herniated disc, your sciatica could be related. If you repeatedly lift or do other motions affecting your back, it could also cause the herniated disc.
In other cases, sciatica happens due to a bone spur, which an overgrowth of bone.
What Types of Doctors Treat Sciatica?
Several different types of healthcare specialists can treat sciatica pain, with each doctor typically focusing on several unique treatment methods.
Chiropractors can help treat sciatica, and their treatments will focus on mechanical adjustments or helping your body gently move through a range of motion.
Chiropractors might also include targeted massage as part of their treatment for sciatica. They may also give you cortisone or other steroid shots to help reduce pain by treating the inflammation of the nerve.
Some people dealing with sciatica will visit acupuncturists to help relieve the pain. This treatment would follow the same pattern of other acupuncture treatments but with the goal of targeting the sciatic nerve.
Physical therapy is a common treatment for sciatic pain, and this involves treatment from physical therapists. During this process, they will help you with guided stretches and light exercises. Psychical therapists may also relieve sciatic pain by correcting your posture.
Your general practitioner may be the first doctor you see for sciatica. They will likely suggest treatments such as medicine, ice and heat, and rest. It is also likely that your primary physician will give you a referral to one of the other types of doctors mentioned here.
In extreme cases, surgeons may be necessary for treating sciatica. WebMD reports that only around 5 to 10 percent of those with sciatica require surgery. This typically becomes an option in the case of mild sciatica that includes lingering pain even after three months of other treatment methods. Surgeons who treat sciatica typically do so via diskectomies or laminectomies.
What Types of Work-Related Injuries Cause Sciatica?
Some experts believe that specific jobs increase sciatica’s risk, although evidence has not yet proven it. Some of the jobs that may increase the risk include driving for a long time, carrying heavy objects, and twisting the back.
Slips and Falls
One of the most common categories of work-related injuries leading to sciatica is a slip and fall. If you fall in the wrong position, it can damage your sciatic nerve or other parts of your spine.
Remember that slipping or falling at work does not need to directly injure your back to cause sciatica or pain in the sciatic nerve. Because the nerve runs through part of your leg, as well, trauma to your leg can result in sciatica.
Repetitive Strain Injuries
As mentioned, some of the injuries that occur at work and lead to sciatica are from repetitive motions. These include twisting your back frequently or having to lift heavy items regularly. These motions are problematic because they cause repeated wear and tear in the same area of your spine, including the discs, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Not all of the workplace sciatica injuries involve active injury. There are also some sedentary injuries, with the most common being injuries from sitting in one spot for a long time, whether that is behind the wheel of a vehicle or at a desk. Keep in mind that sitting can increase the stress on your sciatic nerve by as much as 40%. You can reduce your risk of developing sciatica from a job that involves constant sitting by taking the time to occasionally get up and stretch or walk around.
Other Risk Factors of Sciatica
It is also important to note that you are more likely to develop sciatica, whether or not from a workplace injury if you meet certain risk factors. Adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are the highest-risk age group, according to WebMD. Spinal changes as you age, like bone spurs, will also increase your risk.
There is also a higher risk if you have diabetes, pregnancy, or being overweight. The diabetic risk is due to the potential for nerve damage, while the risk associated with pregnancy and being overweight is due to the higher risk of herniated disks because of increased spinal pressure from the weight.
Smoking can also increase your risk by weakening the outer layer of the disks in your spine.
How Do You Know You Have Sciatica from a Work-Related Injury?
Your doctor can help you determine if you have sciatica from a work-related injury. This process will start by confirming the sciatica diagnosis and then determining how you likely got it. Even if you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, a workplace injury can still be to blame, either for the onset of sciatica or for its worsening.
Recognizing Specific Symptoms
Your doctor will go through your symptoms with you to determine if it is sciatica. We already mentioned that the pain might get worse when you move.
You may also notice weakness or numbness in your lower limbs since this is where the sciatic nerve runs. If your sciatica is really bad, it can progress to the inability to feel your legs or feet at all, along with the inability to move them.
Instead of full numbness, you may also experience pins and needles, the tingling sensation typically associated with regaining feeling in numb limbs.
In extreme cases, sciatica can also cause cauda equina syndrome (CES). The most obvious symptom of this condition is a loss of control of your bowels and/or bladder, and it requires immediate attention. It also has overlap with general sciatica symptoms but commonly includes the numbness progressing quickly.
What to Expect During the Diagnosis
As your doctor diagnoses your sciatica and works to determine its cause, expect to be asked about your medical history, including workplace injuries, repetitive movements, or sedentary habits. Your doctor will also likely test your reflexes and strength, and there may be nerve tests. If sciatica does not decrease within a few months, expect more in-depth testing to rule out causes like cancer. Even if your sciatica has not lasted that long, your doctor will likely use CT scans, MRIs, and/or X-rays to figure out where the sciatic nerve is damaged.
Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Sciatica?
Some injuries that cause sciatica might be covered by workers’ compensation depending on the cause of the injury.
If you have a herniated disc due to a work-related injury or repetitive use injury, you might qualify for workers’ comp.
You’ll need to prove that your back pain was caused by something that happened at work. Your workers’ comp doctor can evaluate the situation and provide detailed notes showing the connection between the workplace incident and your sciatica pain.
How To Deal With Your Sciatica Injury
Whether or not your sciatica injury is covered by worker’s comp, follow your doctor’s advice to help ease the pain faster. Sciatica pain can be debilitating and might require you to take time off of work or modify your work duties.
If your sciatica injury is due to a work-related cause, call to schedule an appointment with an experienced workers’ comp doctor near you.
Don’t wait, call (888) 590-4030 today and get on the road to recovery!