The Relationship Between Emotional Stress and Sciatica

One of the things that surprised me most when I first started my career as a physiotherapist was just how big an impact negative emotions, like stress, anxiety and depression, can have on a painful problem. There’s no better example of this than the relationship between emotional stress and sciatica.

Aims of this post:

  • To talk about how stress and pain are closely related
  • To dicuss the important hormone cortisol
  • To teach you my most effective stress-busting techniques

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How are Emotional Stress and Sciatica Linked?

The negative effects of emotional stress on the human body are usually underestimated. One of the reasons for this is that it wasn’t until quite recently that we actually started to understand exactly how emotional stress affects us, both mentally and physically.

This realization in the medical profession has led to a growing understanding of the relationship between emotional stress and sciatica.

Emotional stress and sciatica have a profound relationship.

Every time we are stressed or find ourselves worrying about something, certain toxins are dumped into our system. Firstly, these toxins make us feel even more miserable, and secondly they have a negative effect on the healing process.

Yep, stress actually directly slows down the time it takes for us to recover from an injury, which means it will take you longer to get better from a sciatica flare up.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands when we are distressed – it is a part of the fight-or-flight mechanism.

Once upon a time, this hormone was useful to us; when mankind was in its early stages, if we were under threat from a predator or enemy, it would give us the stimulation to help keep us alive.

Luckily, we don’t often find ourselves in life or death situations from day to day any more. However, this hormone is still released in emotionally stressful situations in “normal” life.

So the hormones released into your blood when you’ve had, say, a row with your spouse are technically the same cocktail as those released when you’re chased by a bear, only in a smaller dose.

Emotional stress and sciatica are heavily linked, and the release of cortisol is the same as when you are chased by a bear

Cortisol, Emotional Stress and Sciatica Flare Ups

Cortisol has the effect of significantly slowing down wound healing, as shown in many studies over the past 20 years. This stress hormone will have the effect of worsening and lengthening sciatica flare ups. This is one way in which emotional stress and sciatica are closely linked.

The other effect of stress is the release of a family of chemicals called “pro-inflammatory cytokines” – substances that increase inflammation.

We spoke HERE about the effect of inflammation on sciatica and the importance of minimising inflammation in order to allow the affected nerve root to settle down.

The cause of many people’s sciatica is an inflammation of one of the nerve roots in the spine – so it makes sense to reduce inflammation everywhere in the body as best we can in order to relieve sciatica. One way of doing this is to reduce emotional stress.

There are a few effective methods of reducing emotional stress that can be performed by anybody. I have found these methods useful both for myself and for the people I help to get rid of sciatica.

Their effects are variable depending on who you are and your personal preferences; everyone is different, and finding something that works is often a matter of trial and error.

Meditation can reduce emotional stress and sciatica by calming you down


This powerful technique has been used for years by many cultures and has been shown to effectively alleviate anxiety, depression, emotional stress and sciatica as a result of this.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated; simply taking time out of your day to find a comfortable place, shut your eyes and practice breathing techniques can be a powerful practice in emotional stress and sciatica relief.

  • Start by finding somewhere comfortable and quiet where you won’t be disturbed for at least 30 mins. Get into the most comfortable position you can, whether that be sitting, lying flat or standing.
  • Close your eyes. Try to progressively relax each muscle by focusing solely on one specific area of the body, taking a deep breath in, and imagining all the tension fading away from that area as you breathe out.
  • Do 5 breaths for each body part. This whole practice should take roughly half an hour.

take up yoga for emotional stress and sciatica relief due to the calming effects and muscle stretches

Take up Yoga for sciatica relief

  • Alongside the movement benefits you’ll get from yoga, including increased suppleness, toned muscles and stronger core, the relaxation benefits gained from regular yoga attendance are spoken about all over the world.
  • Find a beginners class, and sit out for any of the exercises that make your pain worse. Most yoga instructors are experienced when dealing with people in pain, and it’s unlikely you’ll be the only person in the group trying to find sciatica relief through this method.

Phone a friend to alleviate emotional stress and sciatica as a result

Phone a friend

  • Call a friend or relative: one of the best ways to reduce your stress levels is to touch base with a friend or family member. Simply connecting with another human being has the potential to dramatically reduce your stress levels.
  • A study showed that men are significantly less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety if they have contact with friends or family at least three times per week. Don’t delay this important benefit; pick up the phone!

Listen to music to help emotional stress and sciatica relief can follow as a result

Listen to music

  • Listening to music: music has been shown to be an effective de-stressing tool, and as a knock on effect can reduce levels of cortisol in the body.

Schedule in free time

  • Make sure you have gaps in your schedule for YOU. Times when you can do whatever you want without feeling guilty.
  • If you actively pencil hour-long blocks here and there into your diary for time to relax and unwind, you’re less likely to feel as though you should be filling it with something. When you’re looking for emotional stress and sciatica relief, getting a real break from the daily routine is even more important.

Find a sauna for emotional stress and sciatica relief through the de-stress and heating effects

Find a sauna or steam room nearby

  • I’m not sure this one is founded in science but it’s one that works wonders for me! 15 mins spent in a sauna or steam room is a really effective de-stress technique. You will also get a range of health benefits, including better skin, and the heat can help to directly relax tight muscles in your back and legs, reducing pain from tension. A million Scandinavians can’t be wrong!

Putting these tips into action can help alleviate emotional stress and sciatica as a result. These techniques should speed up healing and make you feel great all round. Remember, the most successful way to treat sciatica is to treat the whole body, not just the back or that specific nerve.

If you’ve found this article useful, or you have a friend or relative that you think might benefit from reading this information then please link them to this page so they can put this advice into action, too!

As always, thanks for reading.

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The information on Overcome Sciatica should never be used as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor. Never put into action any tips or techniques from Overcome Sciatica without checking with your doctor first. Please see full terms of use here.

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