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Can Running Shoes Cause Sciatica?

Hi! I am Dr. Haris, a certified physician, and medical writer. I completed my MBBS degree from King Edward Medical University and am currently practicing medicine as a registered house physician at Mayo Hospital Lahore, Pakistan. My expertise is in treating chronic diseases.

Being a fitness lover since my high school days, I have always devoted time to learning things that improve body health and wellness and have applied that knowledge in both the gym and the kitchen. This inclination has made me a nutrition and fitness expert, and I always love to guide my patients on how to adopt a good lifestyle for better health.

I am also a freelance medical writer and have been writing on fitness and health-related topics for the past three years. I am currently affiliated with multiple health products websites working in the UK, USA, and India as a part of their medical experts’ panel. Contact me here: Linkedin

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Are You Worried That Your Running Shoes Might Cause Sciatica?

For approximately 40 to 50 million people in the United States, running is a primary exercise (1) and fifty percent of them suffer from a significant injury due to running during their life (2). Although some of them are traumatic, most are the result of excessive running. They range from plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendinitis to lower back pain or sciatic nerve pain. 

Chronic lower back pain affects millions the world over. Almost 4.2% of the younger generation suffers from this malady, and with increasing age, the percentage increases to 20%. According to a survey conducted in 2009 comprising 11,000 runners, more than 10 percent of the participants suffered from hip and lower back pain in the preceding 12 months (3).

Hyper-pronation as a result of deviation from the normal gait cycle changes the gap between the vertebrae and hip bones through which various ligaments and nerves pass. In one such condition known as sciatica, the gap is reduced, which results in the pinching of the sciatic nerve.

The question arises whether the shoes we wear for running have something to do with chronic backache conditions like sciatic nerve pain and which footwear is best in this regard.

The research team at Mytopfitness has put a deep search into it and has compiled the available data comprehensively into an easy-to-understand blog. Before we proceed to the discussion of running shoes, let’s understand more about sciatica.

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What is Sciatica, and What Causes It?

The sciatic nerve travels down the lower back behind the hip joint, down the buttock and leg to the back of the knee, where it divides into various branches and continues to the foot.

When the sciatic nerve is pinched, inflamed, compressed, or damaged anywhere along its route, it results in sciatica which is defined as pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. In the case of runners, the most likely cause is the taut piriformis muscle.

What Does Sciatic Pain Feel Like?

With sciatica nerve pain, there is a stabbing, radiating pain that can be anywhere along the pathway of the sciatic nerve, that is, the lower back, buttock, and down the back of the leg. The pain intensity can vary from a mild ache to excruciating sharp (knife-like) pain which can progress to numbness, burning, tingling, or weakening of the muscles of the leg or foot (4).

The pain caused by the sciatic nerve can get aggravated by running, climbing stairs, coughing, or sneezing and is relieved by straightening the back or standing.

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How to Tell if You’re Suffering from Sciatica

Sciatica is a common condition that can cause back or leg pain, tingling, or numbness in the lower back and down one leg. Because of its symptoms, sciatica is often mistaken for back pain or a herniated disc. So how do you know if you’re suffering from sciatica? Here are some useful tips:

Sciatica symptoms usually only affect one side of your body, while back or leg pain can occur on either side. The pain caused by sciatica symptoms tends to be more intense than normal lower back pain – it may even feel like an electric shock shooting down your leg. If you have sciatic nerve irritation, you may find it difficult to stand up straight or sit comfortably due to shooting pains in your legs. You may also experience tingling or numbness in the affected limb because of the trauma to the sciatic nerves.

If you’re experiencing any of these sciatic symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor or physical therapist to talk about possible treatment options. With the right care and support, it’s possible to manage sciatica and reduce its impact on your life. And remember, if you’re suffering from back pain that lasts for more than a few days without showing signs of improvement, make sure to see your doctor as soon as possible for further assessment and diagnosis.

Role of Shoes in Sciatica

Sciatica disrupts the day-to-day life of runners. In most cases, the further aggravation of pain can be avoided with the use of great footwear. Shoe selection may not seem a crucial issue, however, for runners, shoes are the most important possession.

Debates and studies about the role of running shoes and orthotics in preventing running injuries continue. However, there is a unanimous decision that appropriate running shoes help in injury prevention and make running gait efficient. 

Shoes that do not provide adequate arch support or do not have cushioned insoles can trigger sciatica. Because of the non-supportive footwear, every step that you take sends impact up your legs to the lower back, causing incredible discomfort.

According to the Cooper River Bridge run study, lower back pain was more frequent in individuals who had specific patterns of shoe wear (5).

Types of Running Shoes

There are three types of running shoes:

  • Shoes for runners that are over-pronators, individuals with a low foot arch; these are designed to keep the foot in a neutral position and restrict foot motion

  • Shoes for runners having neutral foot arch

  • Shoes for runners that are over supinators, that is, having cavus foot needing extra cushioning

The use of these particular shoe types helps reduce injury risk in specific subpopulations of runners.

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Quality Footwear for Sciatica Patients

There is a wide variety of shoes available that boast the patients’ comfort and stability. However, to aid in sciatica pain prevention and recovery, runners should buy footwear keeping the following qualities in mind:

Great Cushioning and Flexibility

Running shoes that have softer flexible soles reduce the risk of injury, as observed in a randomized control trial conducted in 2020 (6). As per the study using footwear with increased shock absorption properties helped prevent injuries.

Absorbing shock to the hips and back is paramount while suffering from sciatica. As per several studies, the cushioning effect of new shoes drops to fifty percent after running 250 to 500 miles (7). Therefore, it is advised to change running shoes every 350 to 500 miles.

Or better yet, alternating between two pairs of running shoes reduces the risk of injury, as observed in an observational study conducted in 2013 (8).

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Low Heel-to-Toe Drop

Shoes having low heel-to-toe angles decrease the amount of hip tilt and take off pressure from hips and knees during the striking and push-off phase, thus helping relieve pain. High-heeled shoes cause you to flex your hips which stresses the spine and muscles of the lower back surrounding the nerve.

Therefore, if you are suffering from sciatica, it is better to avoid wearing heels.

Great Support

Shoes having supportive uppers and a firm heel cup help with sciatica as they keep feet in a neutral position. Ideally, your shoes should not only relieve pain but avoid further injury. Proper arch support is a key factor that must be kept in mind.

Good Fitting

Good-fitting shoes having roomy toe boxes are perfect for sciatica patients, as wearing tight shoes while running aggravates the condition.

shoes, woman, girl

Tips to Help You Avoid Aggravating Your Sciatic Nerve

When you have back pain, you may deal with a particularly troublesome condition known as sciatica. This is a type of nerve pain that often affects the lower back and legs. Sciatica can be extremely painful and make it hard for you to do daily activities.

While there’s no way to completely avoid developing sciatica in your lifetime, there are some things you can try to minimize its effects when it does occur. Keep reading for tips on how to alleviate the symptoms of sciatica and prevent aggravating this sensitive area further!

How to Avoid Sciatica?

Although prevention of sciatica is not guaranteed, measures can be taken to reduce the risk of developing it, which are as follows:

  • Regular exercising wearing appropriate footwear

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Muscle strengthening and stretching exercises

  • Maintaining a good posture while standing, sitting, and sleeping

  • woman, sad, depression

The Cause Behind Sciatica

It’s important to understand what might be causing your sciatica so that you can take steps to prevent future episodes or reduce their severity if they do arise.

Sciatica is typically caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from your lower back down through both legs, and when it becomes compressed, it can lead to pain in those areas.

This can be due to a variety of factors, including poor posture or standing for too long, losing weight without proper exercise guidance, repetitive movements (such as shoveling snow), stress injuries, or trauma. In some cases, the cause might not even be clear.

“Steps” You Can Take to Avoid Sciatica

There are several things you can do to help reduce symptoms of sciatica if they occur.

One simple way to start is by taking frequent breaks while doing activities that involve straining your back—for example, lifting heavy objects or sitting at a desk all day. It’s important to avoid prolonged sitting. Also, make sure you’re getting enough exercise—but not too much, as that can make your sciatica worse!

If you run often, try switching between running and other lower-impact exercises such as yoga or swimming. You should also focus on maintaining good posture at all times by keeping your back straight, and your shoulders relaxed.

Finally, be careful about the type of shoes you wear—high heels can increase compression on the sciatic nerve, so consider wearing more comfortable and supportive footwear when possible.

Sciatica can be extremely uncomfortable, but there are many things you can do to help reduce its effects. By taking a few simple steps to prevent future episodes and properly care for yourself if one does occur, you can often alleviate symptoms quickly and get back to your normal routine.

woman, yoga, fitness

Can You Take Precautions to Avoid Sciatica?

While sciatica can be very painful, there are some steps you can take to help prevent it from happening. Some of these precautions include:

1. Maintaining a good posture while sitting or standing. This means keeping your spine straight and avoiding slouching or hunching over for extended periods of time. When sitting, ensure that your feet are flat on the ground and the chair is at the proper height, so your knees are level with your hips.

2. Regularly stretch the muscles in your legs and lower back to keep them flexible and strong. You may want to consult a physical therapist or yoga instructor for some guidance on the best stretches for sciatica prevention.

3. Avoid activities or exercises that put pressure on your lower back and/or hips, such as running or jogging, heavy lifting, and sitting for long periods of time without taking breaks to move around. If you are an avid runner or jogger, consider swapping out high-impact exercise for low-impact options like swimming or cycling.

4. Quitting smoking if you’re a smoker. Smokers tend to have higher rates of sciatica than non-smokers, so quitting can help prevent it from occurring in the first place.

5. Keeping a healthy body weight by following a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise. Being overweight puts stress and pressure on your back, hips, and legs, which can contribute to sciatica.

6. Seeking treatment or relief for any existing health conditions that may be causing sciatica, such as diabetes or arthritis. Managing these conditions will help prevent the onset of sciatica symptoms in the first place.

By following these precautions and working closely with your doctor or physical therapist, you can effectively minimize your risk of developing sciatica. It’s also important to keep in mind that while some people experience recurring episodes of sciatic pain, it is typically not a long-term condition unless it is caused by an underlying medical problem like diabetes or arthritis that needs to be treated accordingly.

If you are experiencing recurrent bouts of severe pain, however, it’s always a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor just to make sure everything is okay. If you do have sciatica, there are many pain management strategies and treatments available that can help reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Talk to your doctor about what options may be right for you.​

Conclusion: Your Take Home Message

Keeping in view the various studies that have been conducted, we can conclude that running shoes must be shock-absorbable, flexible, durable, able to control motion, and according to the runner’s foot shape.

Therefore, if you are a regular runner, consult a podiatrist and be careful while selecting running shoes. Cushioned supportive running shoes are the first step to recovery. They can be the difference between getting back on track or staying home.

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References

1. MESSIER SP, LEGAULT C, SCHOENLANK CR, NEWMAN JJ, MARTIN DF, DEVITA P. Risk Factors and Mechanisms of Knee Injury in Runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise [Internet]. 2008;40(11). Available from: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2008/11000/Risk_Factors_and_Mechanisms_of_Knee_Injury_in.2.aspx

2. Fields KB, Sykes JC, Walker KM, Jackson JC. Prevention of running injuries. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2010;9(3):176–82. 

3. Callahan LR, Sheon R. Overview of running injuries of the lower extremity. UpToDate. 2014;10(3):1–34. 

4. Kumar M, Garg G, Singh L, Singh T, Tyagi L. Epidemiology, pathophysiology and symptomatic treatment of sciatica: a review. Int J Pharm Biol Sci Arch. 2011;2(4):1050–61. 

5. Woolf SK, Barfield WR, Nietert PJ, Mainous 3rd AG, Glaser JA. The Cooper River Bridge Run Study of low back pain in runners and walkers. Journal of the Southern Orthopaedic Association. 2002;11(3):136–43. 

6. Malisoux L, Delattre N, Urhausen A, Theisen D. Shoe cushioning influences the running injury risk according to body mass: a randomized controlled trial involving 848 recreational runners. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2020;48(2):473–80. 

7. Cook SD, Kester MA, Brunet ME. Shock absorption characteristics of running shoes. The American journal of sports medicine. 1985;13(4):248–53. 

8. Malisoux L, Ramesh J, Mann R, Seil R, Urhausen A, Theisen D. Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2015 Feb 1;25(1):110–5. 

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