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Is Your Wallet Causing Your Sciatica?

Published September 7, 2017
| Written By BackerNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Jonathan Buncke, DC

What’s in your wallet? This may be more than just a credit card company catchphrase. Truth is, your wallet may be giving you an unwanted and painful case of sciatica. Pressure by your wallet against your sciatic nerve while you’re seated can cause pain from compression and irritation. If that weren’t enough, the lopsided position you sit in when you have a wallet in your back pocket can also cause muscle pain and strain in your legs, hips, and low back.

“If you took an x-ray of a person sitting on a wallet, you would see some side bend and rotation of the spine and pelvis,” says Dr. Brad Whitley PT, DPT of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy in Seattle, Washington.

“It is important to know that the body is resilient and able to handle the stressors of sitting on wallet in a back pocket. However, after months or years of sitting with a wallet on the same side back pocket, a person may increase their likelihood of postural-related pain (i.e., back, hip, knee pain) if these postures are maintained for long periods of time.”

Sciatica is a condition caused by an inflammation of the sciatic nerve. Patients report pain ranging from a mild tingling or burning sensation to debilitating pain in the lower back and through the back and down the leg. An estimated 5%-10% of people with low back pain have sciatica, according to data from the National Institutes of Health.

“The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body. It starts in the lower back and pelvis and is made up of five spinal nerves. When the sciatic nerve becomes irritated most people experience symptoms from tingling or numbness to severe sharp and shooting pain into the leg, ankle or foot," says Dr. Jonathan Buncke of Moon Chiropractic in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. "Common causes of sciatic nerve pain can be herniated or bulging spinal discs, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, or trauma."

If you’re in a car long distances to visit family and friends, or drive for a living—or simply drive over short distances to run errands, take children to activities or attend meetings—don’t sit on your wallet. Compounded with poor posture that happens with driving, it could spell more pain. Instead, find another solution for your wallet while driving.

“Instead of sitting on your wallet how about moving it to your front pocket or consider purchasing a front pocket wallet or using a sleeve that sticks to the back of your cell phone to hold important cards. Another option could be a sling pack that can hold your wallet, keys, charging cables for your phone and a small tablet computer," says Buncke.

The good news is that once the pressure is relieved, the pain should go away. One study showed pain relief in as early as three months. Despite your wallet causing sciatica pain, it’s not likely you’ll develop worse conditions as a result.

“The spine is very resilient and there is no evidence that sitting on your wallet will alter the spine itself. It is, however, possible that sitting on your wallet could cause a muscle imbalance in that area,” says Alex Tauberg of Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The simple thing to do: get into the habit of keeping the wallet’s load light. Remove unnecessary items, shred old credit and debit cards and only keep what’s needed. Keep your wallet in your jacket or front pocket. Buy a billfold instead or a mobile phone case that serves as a space for holding cards and other assorted items. You’ll save your back unnecessary, self-inflicted pain.

Updated: December 5, 2019

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Dr. Jonathan Buncke owns and operates Moon Chiropractic with Dr. Jim Spiropoulos in Moon Township, PA.
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