Some things seem to go together: peanut butter and jelly, a cold winter night and a fire, a movie and popcorn. But not all combinations in life are ideal–like obesity and pain. Research suggests that obese individuals tend to experience more pain in their daily lives–especially back pain–compared to those who are fit and in shape. When you throw pregnancy into the mix, the excess weight you are carrying around could put you at risk for a sciatica pregnancy. Don’t ignore the connection between obesity and sciatica.
Obesity and Sciatica: Excess Weight = Musculoskeletal Pain
Nearly one-third of obese Americans experience musculoskeletal pain, particularly back pain, according to the American Obesity Association. Let’s take a look at why your extra weight is a pain in the lower back:
The Muscles and Bones: The more weight you carry around, the more strain you put on your lower back muscles and ligaments.
The Spine: You spine also takes a beating from extra weight. As the support system of your body, your spine essentially holds you up, supporting the weight of and providing stability to your entire body. To understand what happens to the spine when it has too much weight to support, think of a coat rack: As you hang more and more jackets and hats (weight) on a coat rack, you increase the risk of your once study, upright coat rack becoming bent and brittle, losing a lot of its strength and eventually buckling under the pressure. Essentially, your spine does the same thing; it begin to takes on too much weight responsibility and can crack under the pressure–literally. In addition to becoming more curved and weak over time, the spine is also more at risk for disc damage and other diseases.
Because your extra weight can make the body’s bones and ligaments weaker and more susceptible to damage, overweight and obese individuals are more at risk for sciatica-causing health problems:
- type 2 diabetes
- degenerative disc disease
Add in Pregnancy Weight Gain
When you are pregnant, you have another mouth to feed: your baby’s. Some weight gain during your pregnancy is therefore expected and healthy, and it usually adds up to around 25 to 35 pregnancy pounds. But individuals who are overweight and planning to have a baby have more to think about: adding pregnancy pounds to the extra weight you already have may put your body further into overdrive and you at a greater risk for sciatica pain. If you are already have a medical condition due to your weight, the weight you gain during your pregnancy–even if it is a normal amount–could also trigger sciatica or further aggravate your sciatic nerve.
The Location of your Pregnancy Pounds: Your Bigger Belly
You must also consider your baby’s weight–which, during pregnancy, is a part of your’s. Due to your growing belly, your center of gravity shifts forward during your pregnancy. Your spine is responsible for rebalancing your body and ensuring you do not topple over. But your heavier front (from your growing belly) puts uneven stress on your spine. With your weight centralized to your stomach, your pelvis is pulled forward and your lower back and spine receives a lot of the strain. This is why waist size correlates to lower back pain, including sciatica, in women, as reported by the American Obesity Association.
The result of overextending your body during such a fragile state as pregnancy could be very painful. They key to reducing your risk of sciatica due to obesity will be to lose weight before you conceive and control your weight gain during pregnancy. For more information on how confront this risk factor, see the “Prevention” and “Lifestyle Changes” sections.