While sitting with sciatica can literally be a pain in the buttocks, there are some surprisingly simple ways you can treat and manage your pain. I’m here to teach you how to sit with sciatica for short-term sciatica relief and address the root causes for long-term sciatica relief.
Sciatica pain can worsen with certain positions or movements, and sitting is often one of the worst offenders. That’s why it’s important to learn the best sitting position for sciatica so you can go about your day pain-free.
As with most chronic pain, however, there is usually an underlying cause that we overlook. Beyond learning how to sit with sciatica, implementing healthy habits to address the cause of your sciatica can help to improve your overall pain levels.
If sciatica pain is getting in the way of your workday or comfort levels as you relax each night, read on to learn how to manage your sciatica pain while sitting.
What are the causes of sciatica pain?
Sciatica or sciatic pain is pain that radiates or pulses out from your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve runs from your lower back and branches through your hip, buttocks, and down each leg.
Most people living with sciatic nerve pain tend to only have pain on one side of the body or down one leg.
While there are several different causes of sciatic nerve pain, finding out the cause of your pain is the first step when it comes to finding a treatment. Some of the most common causes of sciatica include:
- Herniated discs
- Bone spurs
- Prolonged sitting and tight iliopsoas muscles
- Tight piriformis muscles
Now, as someone that lives with sciatica, you may be wondering, what does sitting have to do with sciatic pain?
A lot, actually. You see, the entire reason the sciatic nerve is causing you any pain is that it is pinched by something. That’s why if you have a slipped disc or a bone spur that pinches the nerve, you experience sciatica pain.
Well, the same thing happens when you sit for too long. While sitting, your iliopsoas muscles (your primary hip flexors) are in a shortened position, and they can start to become too tight.
It may seem strange that tight muscles could cause nerve pain, but this happens because of the location and importance of these muscles.
The iliopsoas or hip flexor muscles are vital to nearly every body movement from sitting, standing, walking, and turning the trunk of your body. They go through an immense amount of strain throughout the day with little to no rest.
The iliopsoas is made up of two muscles: the iliacus and the psoas. The iliacus is located very close to the hip joint and attaches to the pelvis while the psoas attaches to the lower spine and runs down to connect with the iliacus before they both attach to your upper leg bones.
The proximity to the joint and their distinct connection points is what makes muscle tightness especially troubling. When the iliopsoas muscles are allowed to stay tight, over time, they will begin to pull on the connection points, effectively pulling your pelvis out of alignment and creating a pelvic rotation, or pelvic tilt.
With the pelvis out of alignment, other nearby parts of your body tighten in response, creating tension which impacts your sciatic nerve. This pelvic misalignment is also a reason people may have hip pain while sitting.
When your psoas muscles are tight, they put your lower back into extension, side-bending, and/or rotation. While this is occurring, your tight iliacus is pulling your pelvis forward, causing tightness in your piriformis muscle at the back of your hip as well. Since your sciatic nerve runs under or through (yes, all our bodies are different!) the piriformis muscle, tension in this muscle can compress the sciatic nerve, creating that deep pain or numbness down that leg.
So now that you know some reasons why you could be experiencing sciatica in the first place, let’s delve into how to sit with sciatica pain.
How to sit with sciatica
We have all heard of the importance of having good posture, but did you know that posture can dramatically affect your hip pain and sciatica pain when sitting?
The best sitting positions for hip pain are also very similar to the best sitting positions for sciatica pain, and that is because of how they both relate to tight iliopsoas muscles and how your posture impacts muscle tightness.
Sciatic pain can be aggravated more by sitting, which is why knowing how to sit with sciatica (and taking breaks!) is often a focus for those living with this chronic pain.
One thing to remember when training your body how to sit with sciatica is that even when you are in the optimal sitting position, your body still needs breaks. No matter how you sit with sciatica, being seated still puts your muscles in a contracted, shortened position.
To minimize your sciatica pain throughout the day, not only do you need to know how to sit with sciatica, but you should also invest in taking a break every 30 minutes from sitting.
I know, this seems like a lot, but it doesn’t need to be a long break. Simply getting up to do some light stretching or taking a walk around the block is all you need.
You can also choose to switch from sitting to standing every 30 minutes. The easiest way to do this is to invest in an ergonomic chair and office desk that is adjustable.
Once you have the right setup and start to build a daily schedule that doesn’t keep you stuck in the same position for too long, then you also need to know the best sitting position for sciatica.
3 simple steps to learning how to sit with sciatica pain
- Make sure your chair fits your body and is the correct height. You want your knees lower than your hips, so your spine can more easily keep its natural curve.
- No feet on the coffee table! Say no to the ottoman! It seems like you’re offering your body a fully relaxed position, but your legs straight out (especially if your feet are flexed and your head is looking down at your screen), you’re actually stretching your nerves from head to toe. Muscles like to be stretched, but nerves do not.
- Plant both your feet on the floor. Avoid crossing your legs or leaning to one side.
And there you have it! That’s how to sit with sciatica pain.
While you are in this sitting position, you also need to focus on general body alignment. This means keeping your shoulders in alignment over your hips and your head in alignment with your neck and spine.
In addition, your work equipment can be equally helpful when learning how to sit with sciatica. Your alignment will be easier if you have an entire ergonomic setup that includes proper computer and keyboard placement and arm positioning.
Beyond how to sit with sciatica: release muscle tightness for long term sciatica pain relief
Learning to sit with sciatica is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing your sciatic nerve pain. Building in other healthy daily activities and habits to manage and mitigate pain is the key to long-term sciatica pain relief.
Here are three tips to relieve your chronic sciatica pain
1. Move more
Be intentional about the amount of movement you have in your day. This does not have to be time-consuming, but you should try to change positions every 15-30 minutes. Such frequent movement can be hard to remember, so you may need to set a timer.
Movement during your workday can be as simple as changing from sitting to standing at your desk or even taking a short walk. Walking is a very effective way to wake up your iliopsoas muscles. It also increases your blood flow which means better nutritive fluids to your spinal discs.
Movement during the day can also include some light and gentle stretching. I want to emphasize that this should be very gentle stretching.
The reason being is that when you are sitting and the iliopsoas muscles are in the shortened position, you can do more harm than good by aggressively stretching them when they are not ready.
Light stretching in between changing positions, or even some additional stretching after your short walk, is ideal because your muscles are more warmed up.
3. Release muscle tightness
I saved the best for last. Since knowing how to sit with sciatica pain isn’t enough to prevent pain from occurring throughout your day, you need to treat the core cause of that pain head on. To do this, you need a way to release your iliopsoas muscle tightness.
Unless you have someone else to help you perform a pressure release of the iliacus and psoas muscles, you are not going to be able to properly release the muscles. So, in order to build this into your schedule, you’ll need to use a specialized muscle release tool like the Hip Hook.
I designed the Hip Hook and the Hip Flexor Release Ball specifically to treat the all too common issue of tight iliopsoas muscles, and all the havoc they create on the body.
With a little time, and dedication to a healthy routine, using the Hip Hook to release the iliacus muscle daily can lead to less pain when sitting.
With sciatica pain in particular, I recommend using the Hip Flexor Release Ball along with using the Hip Hook. This is because you can also release the piriformis muscle on the back of your hip, which is essential in sciatica pain relief.
When the front of your hip is released, but not the back, your muscles will tighten up much faster again. So, invest time on both sides of your hips to balance out the muscle release and lessen your sciatica pain when sitting in no time.
In fact, you might find yourself saying: “What sciatica pain?”
Because by learning how to sit with sciatica, and implementing some simple stretching and muscle relief techniques, your sciatic pain may soon be a thing of the past.
Frequently asked questions about sitting with sciatica
Does walking help sciatica pain?
Walking can help relieve some of the pain associated with sciatica, however it doesn’t address the root cause. Releasing muscle tension in the piriformis and iliopsoas muscles before walking will triple your rewards.
What should I avoid if I have sciatica pain?
High impact athletic activities or any specific movements that cause your sciatica pain to flare up should be avoided - but be mindful not to remove exercise or movement altogether. Focus on a combination of muscle release and stretching in place of high-impact activities.