Sitting and Sciatica Pain: How I Solved It with a Walk

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sitting and sciatica pain

I’ve been at a medical conference lecturing all week, basically a sit fest. Despite trying to exercise every day and get up and move as much as feasible, my intermittent sciatica was singing last night at crazy new high levels. Thankfully I knew how to solve that problem, and as I walked it off, it hit me that most patients might not know that this can help or why it worked. Let me explain more about sitting and sciatica pain.

What Is Sciatica?

disc bulgeYou have discs in your back and nerves that exit each spinal level. When the spinal nerves get irritated by chemicals or pressure, they can get overly active, leading to a zinging pain down the leg. Where that nerve pain travels depends on which nerve is getting pinched or ramped up.

How Can Sitting and Sciatica Pain be Related?

Sitting and sciatica pain are directly related through a mechanism that can best be described through a kids toy. The discs in your spine act as spacers and cushions between the spine bones. They are “viscoelastic,” meaning that they have the same properties as Silly Putty. Let’s explore that a bit.

Silly Putty can both act like rubber and be its opposite. Fling a piece of it at the wall and Silly Putty will bounce back like a rubber ball. However, place a book on a chunk of the stuff and leave it there for an hour and it flattens out. This is called viscoelastic. Your discs in the back are the same.

Unlike Silly Putty, your discs have water inside them and specialized natural chemicals called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Sitting a long time pushes the water out of the discs, causing them to flatten a bit. This effect is magnified as we age because the cells in damaged or degenerated discs don’t produce as much GAG. This results in less water in the disc, so when you sit, that lower amount of water is easily pushed out and the disc flattens. When this happens it bulges a bit and can place pressure on a spinal nerve, causing that zinging feeling down a leg.

Why Can Walking Help?

Yesterday afternoon, as I stood in the lecture hall speaking with physicians, the outside of my left leg was zinging in a pulsing fashion that felt like a new electrical heartbeat in the outside and back of my left leg. As a physician, I knew that this was caused by my left S1 spinal nerve. My first natural instinct was to lay down, but I instantly knew what I should do—go for a walk. Why?

Sitting and sciatica pain can be solved by understanding that a degenerated disc gets its nutrition by soaking up water through a process called “imbibition.” The disc literally “imbibes” water by repetitive pressure. Each time you step, a little water gets pushed out of the disc, but as the disc rebounds from the pressure, it soaks up a bit more water than it sheds. Hence this pumping action rehydrates the disc and reduces the flattening effect that causes the bulge and nerve pressure.

Did it work? Yep, within a few minutes of taking a brisk walk, my left-leg zinging pain went completely away! It was really amazingly effective. On the other hand, had I lain down, the disc would not have fully recovered its water nearly as quickly. I would have been stuck in a vicious cycle of the disc losing more and more water with additional sitting that day.

The upshot? The discs in your back need to imbibe water by the pumping action of walking. So when sitting causes that nerve zinging down one or both legs, resist your natural instinct to lie down, and walk it off instead!

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40 thoughts on “Sitting and Sciatica Pain: How I Solved It with a Walk

  1. Annette

    Thank you for sharing how things work. I always wonder why I ache when I first stand up and the pain basically dissapears once I start moving and that the longer my work week (more sitting), the worse the pain. I am going to add more movement!

    1. Regenexx Team

      Annette,
      Great plan!

      1. Ch

        You all have a joke pain. Get up moving My God. I got sciatica. I played xolladge football with a torn Mussel four games. That was nothing. This if I stant within seconds the pain is so hot. So eletric. So painful. So so so so bad. I collaps. A shake. Sliver in pain. Takes 1 hour to get where I can breath. First time line this. Had it 3 times. Nothing. The leg and knee pain is beyond. It’s like having 1000 hot needelse stapled to bone with a current of eletric. Constant. Hotter and hotter

        1. Regenexx Team Post author

          Ch,
          That type of sudden intense pain should be checked out locally, and an MRI done. Once you have an MRI, if you submit the Candidate form, we can help find the nearest Regenexx physician to review it and see if we can help. Please see: https://regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/back-surgery-alternative/

  2. AL

    I walk every morning and have back problems, and I always feel better during and after the walk.
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience with the public

    1. Regenexx Team

      Al,
      Glad you’re out there walking…my pleasure!

  3. stef

    The regenexx doctor in chicago went as far as saying that running was also good… that is not what chiropraticians are saying. Who is right ?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Stef,

      Running can be tough, unless you have excellent stability, so that would depend on the patient. Was that said in the course of an exam or treatment for a particular issue?

  4. Dennis

    Thanks for the practical tip, Dr. Centeno.

    Jordan Metzl, M.D., avid runner, author, and well-known NYC sports physician, says that it’s a misconception that running is bad for your knees. Things such as a forward lean from your ankles and not hips, and shortening stride length with a quick cadence to reduce impact forces are noted by Dr. Metzl and others.

  5. Jan Richard Myhrvold

    Hello! Thank you for good information. I have sciatica in my left tight down to knee. But my sciatica is worse when I am walking. Better if I am sitting. My doctor mean my problem is facet joint L3/L4 touch the nerve in foramen. So I think sciatica also can be worse of walking? I have send you a contact formular, but I have not got feedback from you. I hope we can discuss my case.

    1. Chris Centeno Post author

      Yes, it’s possible for sciatica to be worse with walking. This post focuses on the type of sciatica that gets worse with sitting due to a degenerative disc bulge. If it gets worse with walking it may be due to instability, which is a different clinical situation. You may want to read our book, Orthopedics 2.0 to learn more about instability. See http://www.regenexx.com/orthopedics2/

  6. Chhatra Karki

    Walking seems to always help me but my lower back pain is worse when I am standing for a while as opposed to seating.
    Hello Dr. Centeno !

    1. Regenexx Team

      Chhatra,

      That could be spinal stenosis, as that’s worse with standing over sitting. http://www.regenexx.com/blog/spinal-stenosis-surgery-alternatives/

  7. Ken

    And of course getting regenerative treatments, improving spine curve, enhancing core stability/endurance, nutrition, and ergonomics/ biomechanics all added together will rebuild the spine without surgery!

  8. Bill

    Interesting article! This is my experience exactly. I am wondering if walking could completely cure sciatica over time? Any thoughts?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Bill,

      Walking relieves the pain because the pumping motion of walking allows the disc to refill with fluid a bit taking pressure off the nerve. But we can’t walk 24 hours a day. This is an issue can be treated non-surgically with your own stem cells or platelets. Importantly, avoid steroid shots, as they will ultimately make the situation worse! Please see: http://www.regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/back-surgery-alternative/ and http://www.regenexx.com/steroid-injection-risks/

  9. Maureen wilkinson

    My pain is like a stitch in my side when I walk it does relieve the pain , but I thought I had to stay lying down to make it better . Do nothing housework work nothing at all .
    Medication hasn’t worked I’ve had massage . Magnets on my back .
    Very depressing when one is normally very active

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Maureen,
      What you describe could be this issue, but other things as well. Accurate diagnosis is key to avoid issues like things being removed, altered or added surgically. These are the physicians who can do the type of exam needed. Please see: https://regenexx.com/find-a-physician/

  10. dianne moncrief

    I have had sciatic pain now for 5 wks.Had it last year but it didn’t last this long.I taken water therapy and it went away.but now it is terrible.long as I’m up it not as bad but when I sit or lay down its hurt so bad,from my buttock down my left leg to my toes.muscle spasm and charley houses mostly every night all night if I lye down.my toes stay numb all the time.up all night long .I take tramidol, lyrica, gabipentin, flexril,and was taking prednisone for a week which help my pain alone with torodol shot(the prednisone) really helped. Now the only thing that help is propping up on my elbows on the counters for a while.I taken several med for sleep at night but they only works for 2 or 3 hrs.can some please explain this.o I got herniated disc from an accident at work in 2006 and when it flares up baby it’s on..I mean it really hurt..so I just need a little advice please

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      dianne,

      In order to give advice in a particular case we would need to examine you. These are the Physicians that can do that type of exam: https://regenexx.com/find-a-physician/

  11. Alexandre Mannella

    The thing is I get severe sciatica pain only when I walk or stand up for more then 5 min. When I sit down it goes away after a while. What could be the issue then?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Alexandre,

      There are several causes of sciatica leg pain. The fact that it is made worse by walking simply makes it unlikely that it’s being caused by a degenerated disc. We’d need to examine you to determine what’s going on in your particular case.

  12. Asia Lynnae

    I can not describe the pain I am feeling, I think it is sciatica.. but I can not be 100% sure. I am very active and only 20 years old, I have tried to stretch, I have tried some pills for the inflamed muscle but nothing helps.. Any suggestions?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Asia,
      We’d need to examine you to determine what the issue is in your case. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/sitting-and-sciatica-pain/ and https://regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/back-surgery-alternative/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/calf-muscle-jumping/ These are the locations that can do that type of exam: https://regenexx.com/find-a-physician/

  13. Sebastian U.

    Thanks for the help, i was looking up home remedies, it makes sense that my lower back and upper parts of my leg hurt if it’s caused by extended periods of sitting who knew it would just take walking. I was curious what problem could i have with my back though? I habe pain in my back that feels sharp and sudden that usually is a quickly fading pain and goes away within a minute and it happens in the low middle section honestly a similar location to what I am assuming is a sciatic pain but is a completely different pain. It is usually caused by me laying on my stomach while also propping myself up but sometimes laying down completely causes it too. Standing up sometimes I feel like I cant stand all the way up immediately due to the pain so I look like the older people in the commercials for those icy hot pads gripping their back leaning to the side the works. This pain has been going on pretty much after i hit 16 or 17 years old and I’m 23 now. It used to only happen about once every other month or so but recently over the past 1 1/2 years or so it feels like it happens almost every week sometimes 2 times a week. Sorry for such a long post I just needed to ask and give all information I feel might be relevant.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Sebastian,

      Walking tends to releive the pain because it rehydrates the disc which tend to flatten the when sitting. While that set of symptoms suggest certain issues, we would need to examine you to determine what’s going on in your particualr case. Please let us know if you’d like assistance in setting that up.

  14. vicky

    I just want you to know the more I walk the worse my sciatica gets. I can barely make it through the store shopping for groceries before my pain shoots down my leg and my foot goes numb. It is very uncomfortable. What has help bring relief is lying down on the floor or my bed, raising the leg with the pain, and point / flexing my foot which stretches the nerve. Work nearly instantaneously. : ) Please do not send ads to my email

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Vicky,
      Sciatica can be caused by several different issues. Degenerated discs causing pressure on a spinal nerve tend to be relieved by walking. But sciatica can also be caused by a bulging disc, a herniated disc, or a torn disc like an annular tear or HIZS so treating the right issue with the right treatment is key. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/should-you-get-your-disc-injected-with-stem-cells/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/stem-cell-disc-treatment/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/want-see-advanced-image-guided-injection-step-procedure-suite-dr-pitts/

  15. Bonnie

    I was hospitalized severe dehydration and orthostatic hypotension. I was physical therapy for balance and strength so I could exercise. Then sciatica saw a Dr. and he put me on Flexeril did not get better and my physcian put me on Nasaid. It was bit better and continued my therapy. Therapist has tried to help me. I have pain lower back goes into buttock right side hip into groin area and goes down right thigh in front of leg and my legs swell at times. I am frustrated because all I wanted to do is strengthen and balance. I have Lupus and RA 71 yrs old. I would like to avoid injections. I have a lot RA problems.Read some of your comments to avoid injections in some cases,. Can you please help. Could this be a twisted muscle?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Bonnie,
      You’ve been through a lot, and avoiding Steroid injections is a good idea as they make things much worse in the long run. But we’d need to examine you to see what’s causing these issues. You can give us a call at 855 622 7838 and our team can assist in finding the right location to do that.

  16. John

    Year’s ago, while sitting on the sofa for 3 or 4 hours, I had my first sciatica attack. Pain in my behind and down the back of my leg. Afterwards, I could not sit very long. This continued for days (can`t sit long). Standing was relief. Later,
    After seeing my doctor, then Xray or MRI (don`t member which), I was told I have spinal stenosis. I gradually was able to sit longer, but I rather sit on a hard chair than on the soft sofa. I removed the “zig zag” springs from the part of the sofa I sit on, and mounted a board. The result was a firmer seat. Over a long period of time (months), I was able to sit with very little pain. My Wife wanted a new sofa. We bought a new sofa. My part of the NEW sofa was not firm, but it was comfortable. The second evening, sitting on the new sofa, watching TV, I got severe pain in my behind again. I made modifications again so I have a firm seat,
    but it took months for my sitting pain to get better.

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi John,
      Very ingenuitive! We can likely help. Please see: https://regenexx.com/conditions-treated/spine/

  17. Johnny Ciarallo

    Sitting lieing sleeping , I get no pain. It only occurs when I walk and when the pain sets in after aprox 250 meters if I sit the numbnessin my feet goes away very quickly is it possible that I have a pinched nerve instead of siatica ??

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Johnny,
      Sciatica, which is pain or numbness that follows the sciatic nerve can be caused by a pinched or compressed lumbar spinal nerve, or when the gel from within the disc leaks out onto the Spinal nerve root. Several different issues can cause this, so what’s important is determining what’s causing the symptom as treatment varies based on the cause. To see what’s going on in your case, and what type of treatment would be needed, we’d need more information. To do that, please submit the Candidate form here: https://regenexx.com/conditions-treated/spine/

  18. Marie Empson

    I have been told by my doctor to stop walking so much as it won’t help my sciatica. This was very disturbing as I love to walk and feel it relieves the pain, as sitting is worse. feeling confused as i’m about to holiday with my husband and there will be a lot of walking. To walk or not to walk very confusing. And my pain has been getting worse over the last few month’s. Does it every get better?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Marie,
      It usually requires treatment. Sciatica can be caused by either chemicals irritating a spinal nerve, or by pressure on a spinal nerve. What does your Doctor say is causing yours?

  19. Ashi

    Hey,I have coccydynia,broke my tailbone after falling in a pit on a edgy sharp pointed thing in it .. still recovering been a year .. now the pain has gone to my leg aswell .. seems to be sciatica .. any recommendations?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Ashi,
      We’d need more information, and to examine you to advise. If you’d like to set that up please give us a call at 855 622 7838, or submit the Candidate form here: https://regenexx.com/conditions-treated/spine/

  20. Andrew

    I have DDD and stenosis, the last two weeks the sciatica pain is almost unbearable. I try to walk but the pain almost takes me too my knees at times, I’ve had two sessions of lumbar injections and now the Doctor wants to try Ablation. Not sure if that is truly the answer or just a bandaid fix, would love some advice and relief!

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Andrew,
      This issue requires a very specific type of procedure to treat. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/lumbar-stenosis-treatment-without-surgery/ Ablation kills the nerve responsible for stability in the area, which might help the pain for a while, but doesn’t address what’s causing the issue and makes the situation worse in the long run. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/burn-nerves-in-low-back/ To advise in your particular situation, we’d need more information. To do that, please use the Candidate button here: https://regenexx.com/conditions-treated/spine/

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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