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Cell-phone sciatica is a pain in the butt

Sitting on your smartphone can do more than just bend the device

Published: April 14, 2015 06:00 AM

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As our tests of the iPhone 6, Samsung Note 3, and other smartphones a few months ago showed, keeping the devices in your back pocket could bend the device when you sit down. But storing your phone in your back pocket can also be bad for your back and butt.

Specifically, it can trigger sciatica, or pain that starts in your buttocks and shoots down the leg. I know that because, as a practicing neurologist, I have seen several patients complaining of the problem over the past few years. And I've been able to trace it back to the object tucked into their back pocket.

The most recent victim: a 6-foot-2 man who was pleased to learn that the solution to his stubborn sciatica pain was not replacing his car (which he had been blaming), or surgery or drugs, but simply finding a new place to carry his iPhone.

You might think that it’s pretty obvious that putting the device in your back pocket—and sitting on it—is a bad idea. But as last year’s bendgate controversy showed, a lot of people do it. In fact, it even triggered conversation on social media about on how to sit down with your phone in your pocket without damaging it. The few health concerns that have come up so far have focused on how keeping the phones in your front pant's pocket might allegedly hurt your sperm.

Read more about how to prevent and treat back pain.

That risk is speculative. But the potential harm to your back is clear. Pressing any hard object against the derrière, home of the sciatic nerve, is a bad idea. Cell-phone sciatica can now join several related nerve-compression syndromes, including wallet sciatica, credit-card sciatica, and back-pocket sciatica.

A few years ago, for example, I wrote about a court officer whose sciatica pain stemmed from wearing his gun belt and nightstick over his backside. The condition is common enough that I now routinely check the rear pockets of patients who come to me with complaints of buttock pain radiating to the thigh.

—Orly Avitzur, M.D.

Orly Avitzur, M.D.

Medical Adviser

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