A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop low back pain or sciatica with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing low back pain or sciatica. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors include:

Sedentary Job or Lifestyle

Muscles that support the back can become weak with lack of exercise.


Work that requires the following motions puts additional stress on the back:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Bending or twisting
  • Exposure to vibrations, such as riding in a car or operating heavy machinery

Participating in Strenuous or Contact Sports

Injuries from contact sports or falls can result in back pain.

Cigarette Smoking

Smoking may contribute to degeneration of the discs in the spine.


Maintenance of good weight is important for your overall health. While scientific evidence is inconclusive as to how much obesity contributes to back pain in general, extra pounds can increase pressure on the spinal muscles and disks.

Improper Lifting Techniques

Lifting objects using your back muscles instead of the stronger muscles in your legs increases your risk of back injury.


As you grow older, the discs in your back begin to lose water content and degenerate, increasing the risk of disc problems and back pain, especially after age 40. However, even with some disc degeneration seen on ]]>MRI]]> or ]]>x-rays]]> , most people do not have back pain.