Is Sciatica Worse for Women?
Women with sciatica are more likely to have a slower recovery rate than men with the same condition. In a 2008 study, 28% of women had unsatisfactory outcomes after one year of treatment, compared to just 11% of men. Patients with unsatisfactory outcomes suffered from higher pain and disability levels as well as slower recovery rates compared to other patients.
The researchers tracked the progress of 283 patients with severe sciatica. The patients were treated with surgery, conservative care, or a combination of both. By the end of the study, 83% of patients had recovered, reflecting the generally positive prognosis of sciatica. But 17% of patients were still experiencing severe pain, and the majority of those patients were women. Gender differences in recovery rate were not affected by the type of treatment patients received.
Previous studies have shown that women are also more likely to have chronic pain and disability from other musculoskeletal conditions. Research suggests that there are various biological and social factors that could play a role in these gender differences. Smoking and obesity have also been linked to sciatica and chronic pain in women.
We talked to Dr. Jamie Stern, a chiropractor in Sunnyvale, CA, about this study. "We see quite a few sciatica patients in our office, and we do seem to find that our women clients report more pain complaints. We have great success, though, with all of our chiropractic patients."
Since most of the women in the study did recovery after one year, it's important to remember that being female doesn't guarantee a poor recovery. Still it's crucial to take steps to prevent chronic pain with early treatment, exercise, and improved posture.
Peul W, Brand R, Thomeer R, and Koes B. Influence of gender and other prognostic factors on outcome of sciatica. Pain 2008;138: 180-191.