Preventing sciatica 

It's not always possible to prevent sciatica, but there are several things you can do to help prevent back injuries that could lead to sciatica, such as a herniated or 'slipped' disc.

Lifting and handling

One of the biggest causes of back injury, particularly at work, is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling objects can help prevent sciatica:

  • Think before you lift  can you manage the lift? Are there any handling aids you can use?
  • Start in a good position  your feet should be apart, with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance. When lifting, let your legs take the strain – bend your back, knees and hips slightly, but do not stoop or squat. Tighten your stomach muscles. Do not straighten your legs before lifting, as you may strain your back on the way up.
  • Keep the load close to your waist  keep the load as close to your body for as long as possible, with the heaviest end nearest to you.
  • Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways  especially when your back is bent. Your shoulders should be level and facing in the same direction as your hips. Turning by moving your feet is better than lifting and twisting at the same time.
  • Keep your head up  once you have the load secure look ahead, not down, at the load.
  • Know your limits  there is a big difference between what you can lift and what you can safely lift. If in doubt, get help.
  • Push, don't pull  if you have to move a heavy object across the floor, it's better to push rather than pull it.
  • Distribute the weight evenly  if you are carrying shopping bags or luggage, try to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of your body.

Read more about how to lift correctly.

Posture

How you sit, stand and lie down can also have an important effect on your back. The following tips should help you maintain a good posture:

Standing

Stand upright, with your head facing forward and your back straight. Balance your weight evenly on both feet, and keep your legs straight.

Sitting

You should be able sit upright, with support in the small of your back. Your knees and hips should be level, and your feet should be flat on the floor (use a footstool if necessary). Some people find it useful to use a small cushion or rolled-up towel to support the small of the back.

If you use a keyboard, make sure that your forearms are horizontal and your elbows are at right angles.

Read more about how to sit correctly.

Driving

Make sure that your lower back is properly supported. Correctly positioning your wing mirrors will prevent you from having to twist around. Foot controls should be squarely in front of your feet. If driving long distances, take regular breaks so that you can stretch your legs.

Sleeping

Your mattress should be firm enough to support your body while supporting the weight of your shoulders and buttocks, keeping your spine straight. If your mattress is too soft, place a firm board under the mattress. Support your head with a pillow, but make sure that your neck is not forced up at a steep angle.

Exercise

Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of developing a herniated disc by slowing down the age-related deterioration of the discs in your back. It can also help keep your supporting back muscles strong and supple.

You should warm up and cool down properly before and after any workout or sports activity. Your warm up and cool down should incorporate stretching exercises.

Read more about how to warm up before exercise and stretching after exercise.

Page last reviewed: 26/08/2014

Next review due: 26/08/2016