Greetings from Portland! I am in the Pacific Northwest to see Bruce Springsteen this weekend. I had a 90 minute flight from San Francisco to Portland, and this little trek got me thinking about how to deal with sciatica pain when sitting.
Earlier this week I was talking about the two most common “core” exercises, the superman and the plank. For some reason people think that they need to build up their core strength, especially when they have pain while sitting. But why would core strength be so important for this scenario?
The truth is that it doesn’t have much of an impact. Sitting especially on the couch or a chair with back support is and supposed to be fairly passive. Your spine is supported by the cushion or back seat of a chair, and as a result, there does not need to be any sort of activation or contraction of the core muscles.
The function of core strength is broken down into three categories: produce movement, prevent movement, and to coordinate movement. But when you are sitting down, there is no motion to be had. As a result, minimal need to “strengthen” your core.
But what if you are experiencing pain in sitting? Here’s what you can do:
1) If you experience pain after sitting for 90 minutes… That means get up from your chair/couch and walk every 45 minutes to an hour. Even something as small as a walk to the bathroom will be enough to give your spine and nerves a break
2) Find the position that is the most comfortable for you. Maybe it is hunched forward (if you have foramina stenosis or arthritis); maybe it is arched with a lumbar support (if you have a herniated disc). Your pain will be your guide
3) Change your sitting surface. In some cases, you might need to add a little pad underneath your sit bones to provide some gentle support.
4) Reduce your total time of sitting. In some cases, getting up often and spending maybe only 2 hours a day sitting vs 8 hours a day of sitting can help.
Training your core to get strong will be helpful with addressing problems with standing and moving around, even with exercising. But would have little to no effect on pain.