Is your job triggering your sciatica pain?

Your job may put you at risk for developing sciatica pain. While there is a large body of research documenting occupational risk factors of low-back pain, few studies have evaluated how occupational hazards differ for sciatica pain.

One study examined a cohort of 841 male employees of the French gas and electric company GAZEL. The participants were aged 40-50 years and ranged in socioeconomic status, job level, and job responsibilities. Researchers followed employees for two years to track whether they developed sciatica or low-back pain. Participants also completed questionnaires that evaluated their pain, job satisfaction, lifestyle habits, and free-time activities, among other factors.

The main risk factors for developing sciatica were a history of low-back pain, height, and driving. For many employees, driving was regular job duty and those that drove more a few times a week increased their risk of sciatica. Interestingly, those that drove every day had a lower risk than those that drove a few times a week. Other characteristics that put employees at risk included: being less than 180 cm tall, engaging in do-it-yourself home improvement projects, sports, and having poor health in general.

On the other hand, employees that developed low-back pain without sciatica frequently had a history of low-back pain and bended forward and backward within their job.

This study demonstrates that the risk factors for low-back pain and sciatica are different. Often sciatica pain is lumped with low-back pain in medical studies but these results prompted researchers to conclude that sciatica and low-back pain should be examined as separate medical conditions. Researchers also noted that the results from this study may be limited by the specific company, the fact that all participants were male, and that several answers were based on self-assessment.

Other studies have pointed to additional risk factors for sciatica including heaving-lifting and smoking. Researchers concluded that this highlights the complexity of sciatica risk factors and the need for additional research. A doctor of chiropractic can consult with you about how to reduce your occupational risk of developing or exacerbating sciatica pain.

Leclerc, A. et al. “Personal and occupational predictors of sciatica in the GAZEL cohort.” Occupational Medicine 53.6 (2003): 384-91. Accessed November 1, 2011. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqg072.