Person's bulky pockets
It might feel great to have wallets filled with wads of cash, stuffed in your back pocket, but this might actually cause a lot of trouble to your spine in the long run. Image Credit: Shutterstock

What you carry in your back pocket could be giving you a headache. I don’t mean the bills, we're talking about your phone or wallet. By shoving things into your pockets, you’re throwing your entire posture off-kilter, putting excessive stress on your lower spine, including the discs, nerves and ligaments, say experts.

Commonly referred to as the hip-pocket syndrome, or even wallet neuropathy, this situation can result in uneven pelvic alignment, sciatic nerve compression along with spinal alignment, explains Amit Saraswat, a Dubai-based physiotherapist.

‘Wallet neuritis’

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Wallet neuritis is a variation of an actual diagnosed disorder: Piriformis syndrome, a case of an inflamed muscle in the buttocks. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Filled with credit cards, cash, licence and receipts, wallets can become quite a chunky piece of pocket-wear. However, when this is constantly residing in your back pocket, there is mounting pressure on the pelvic muscles, explains Keerthana Singh, a Dubai-based physiotherapist. It is termed as wallet neuritis, or wallet neuropathy, where the sciatic nerve gets inflamed due to pressure from a bulky pocket, which is usually your back pocket. “Remember, when you sit on a bulky object, your body is compelled to contort itself into a comfortable position. This involves the constant straining of muscles, and you find it more difficult to maintain a good posture while driving,” she says.

The phenomenon of 'hip-pocket syndrome' is a legitimate concern that arises from keeping wallets or other bulky items in the back pocket while sitting, especially during extended periods of driving. This causes an imbalance in the pelvic alignment. The pressure exerted on the sciatic nerve can result in numbness, pain, tingling...

- Amit Saraswat, Dubai-based physiotherapist

“When you use a thick wallet, the posture of the pelvis, and the dorso-lumbar spine gets compromised. There is uneven pressure on the pelvic muscles, inter-vertebral discs, nerve roots,” explains Singh. The sciatic nerve, a nerve that starts in your lower back and goes down to your leg, becomes compressed, as it is pinched between your wallet and the pelvis. As a result, the lower back anatomy is severely affected, explains Singh.

Nevertheless, the severity of the symptoms can differ from person to person; some might experience severe discomfort, while others can undergo mild pain. However, while ‘wallet neuritis’ isn’t an official medical term, it stems from an actual diagnosed disorder: Piriformis syndrome, a case of an inflamed muscle in the buttocks.

Piriformis syndrome: A case of pins and needles?

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In the case of piriformis syndrome, the person will experience numbness, or aching, burning, sensations or even shooting pains in the leg and back. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The piriformis is a flat and narrow muscle that extends from your lower spine, to your hips and to the top of your thighs. Extending to each side of your body, the piriformis muscle helps you in walking, explains Singh. The sciatic nerve is right below the piriformis; it travels from the spinal cord, to the hips, down the back of each leg and to your feet. When the piriformis muscle is under continuous stress caused by the wallet, it aggravates the sciatic nerve, which causes pain and a tingling sensation all over the body. “The continuous pressure on the piriformis muscle leads to excessive wear and tear, adding pressure to the sciatic nerve,” she explains.

What is the piriformis muscle?
The piriformis muscle plays a crucial role in the movements of the hip and the stability of the pelvis.It helps to rotate the hip outward when the leg is straightened out and helps the leg, when it is flexed, which means bending the knee. These movements allow the leg to move out to the side, such as while stepping to the side from a standing position or getting out of a car. It helps stabilise the hip joint, which is vital for maintaining balance while walking. Courtesy: US-based Spinal health website

“So, there will be excessive inflammation, which leads to swelling in the piriformis and the tissues surrounding it. The muscle gets scarred, leading to the disorder, if not checked and monitored soon enough,” she says. “There is also a sense of stabbing pins-and-needles feeling, which occur often along the sciatic nerve,” she says.

There’s also severe disc compression: The constant pressure on the spine from sitting on a wallet results in bulging or herniated discs, which leads to additional pain and potential long-term issues, explains Saraswat.

A bulky wallet isn’t the only culprit behind the piriformis syndrome, adds Singh. “Activities like running, cycling, or prolonged sitting can strain the piriformis muscle, leading to irritation and inflammation. Trauma, such as a fall or injury can cause trouble, too, which can get aggravated by a bulky wallet. People who have one leg longer than the other, have trouble with their gait as it puts additional stress on the piriformis muscle,” she says.

How can this be prevented?

Well, for starters, ditch the heavy pockets. You don’t need to carry around your entire card collection with you.

“There are also other dangers, when it comes to the hip pocket syndrome,” explains Karen Roe, a Dubai-based orthopedic surgeon. “These long, uncomfortable and painful drives with the driver’s posture in a bad shape, could lead to erratic mistakes on the road too. The discomfort can easily cloud their brain and prevent them from thinking clearly, increasing the possibility of accidents,” she says.

The experts provide a couple of simple solutions to prevent this problem altogether:

• Empty your pockets before you go on a drive

• Invest in a phone mount: Instead of keeping your phone in the pocket, how about you attach it to the dashboard and windshield?

• Carry around a slimmer wallet, or a cardholder.

Remember your most important accessory for road trips and well for life, is a healthy back. Keep the pockets light and look for smart storage solutions for your phone and wallet.