A few weeks ago a patient with low back and leg pain came into Golden Chiropractic for treatment. While sitting in the treatment room, I observed his posture.
He sat slightly crooked, leaning to the left, away from his right buttock. He complained of low back pain on his right side, and buttock pain with radiating ‘sciatic’ pain down his leg to the back of his thigh. He said the pain was worse with driving and sitting.
I watched him lean to the right, momentarily sit still, then quickly lean back over to the left. He was clearly uncomfortable.
I instructed him to unload his pockets. He took keys and his cell phone from his right front pocket. Then he took the most enormous wallet from his back right pocket.
I laughed to myself. I knew immediately that this wallet was the source of his pain.
Sitting on a wallet puts stress on your hip joint and lower back, says Stuart McGill, Ph.D., professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo.
The problem starts when your sciatic nerve, which is right behind your hip joint, gets pinched between the wallet and your hip. It causes pain that starts from your hip, but can send aches all the way down your leg.
Sitting on a wallet can lead to Piriformis syndrome: in 15% of the population, the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle rather than beneath it. When the muscle shortens or spasms due to trauma, it can compress or strangle the sciatic nerve beneath the muscle.
Piriformis syndrome may be the major cause of sciatica when the nerve root is normal. The risk of self-inflicted sciatica is increased with the fashion trend of lower-hanging pants and lower-positioning of the pockets. Sitting on a wallet for prolonged hours every day can cause self-inflicted sciatica.
Stuffing a wallet in your back pocket tilts your pelvis to one side, which puts more stress on your spine. When one cheek is higher than the other, you end up with biomechanical stress causing twisting of the pelvis. The spine becomes misaligned. Instead of sitting upright, you actually round your lower back and slouch. Then your shoulders slump leading to neck and upper back pain too! The bigger your wallet, the more lopsided you’re forced to sit—and the achier you’ll end up.
If you’re experiencing low back pain, sciatica, pinched nerve, or crooked looking posture, consider the possibility that you are carrying uneven loads and put your spine out of alignment. Other symptoms include the inability to drive for long periods due to pain, and numbness and tingling in the buttock or down the leg.
The solution is quite simple: don’t sit on your wallet! Empty your pockets. Sit balanced on both of your sit bones (you know, the boney part of your butt at the bottom crease of your butt cheek). Use a smaller/slimmer wallet that can only carry the essentials. Empty your wallet of receipts, business cards, etc. Use a money clip to beat the bulk. Any method that gets that bulk out of your pockets will save your spine.
And of course, if you’re feeling any back pain, come in and we’ll get you out of pain.