What Causes Sciatica Pain?


Have you ever felt a shooting, burning, or stabbing pain spreading from your lower back into one leg? You’re not alone! Millions of people around the world suffer from sciatica, and if you’re one of them, you’ve definitely come to the right place. Here we’ll discuss the causes and treatments for sciatica pain – so read on and get ready to finally say goodbye to those achy days!


Top Causes for Sciatica Pain

Sciatica is a type of chronic pain traditionally attributed to compression of the sciatic nerve, which passes through the lumbar spine and can cause local muscle weakness. Sciatic pain is usually experienced in one side of the buttocks and runs down through the leg. While there are a few causes of sciatica, most commonly it occurs as a result of an underlying spinal disorder or condition. The most common causes are disc herniation, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and piriformis syndrome.

Disc herniation happens when a lumbar disc bulges or ruptures, trapping the nerve tissue in its pathways and creating inflammation around it. Spinal stenosis is when some form of trauma leads to the narrowing of the spaces between vertebrae and this compresses the nerve root tissue – resulting in pain that is caused by prolonged compression over time.

Spondylolisthesis is an uncommon forward displacement (slip) of one vertebra on top of another; MRI evidence suggests that it may be more common than previously thought. Piriformis syndrome can also lead to sciatic pain if the piriformis muscles spasm or go into spasm- thereby pressing on nearby nerves rooted in its traversing path above the hip joint; being among the least stabilized muscles around- it usually needs physical therapy regimen to manage/generate relief from heretofore unexplainable episodes of leg/low back pain universally named Sciatica!

Other rare causes include spinal cord injuries, advanced age-related conditions such as arthritis or scoliosis, tumor formation within the spine, and trauma due to extreme stress placed on connective tissues that form part of the spine ie: ligaments/muscle strains, etc.

In conclusion, sciatica refers generally to any type of lower back pain associated with irritation (compression)or inflammation of underlying nerve root tissue leading out from main exit points at the base of the spine column hence being known so typically by the name “sciatica”. There are many possible reasons for this sort of debilitating sciatic pain which can make treatment tricky; therefore it’s best to seek medical advice from a qualified MD/Neurosurgeon who practices diagnosis/treatment depending upon specific diagnosis!

Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis Syndrome is a type of sciatica pain caused by the piriformis muscle in the lower part of the hip. This muscle helps control hip rotation and allows for normal movement of your legs and hips. If this muscle contracts or spasms, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, resulting in irritation to the nerve known as sciatica.

An MRI scan is often used to diagnose Piriformis Syndrome without consulting an orthopedist or neurosurgeon for further investigation. This is because MRI findings are common in scientists – looking for a space-occupying lesion that may compress a nerve or structure. In this case, they seek evidence that tightened or damaged tissues have compressed the sciatic nerve and/or irritation of its surrounding structures, as this would indicate Piriformis Syndrome rather than other causes of sciatica pain.

Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam to confirm the diagnosis. During this exam, they’ll look for telltale signs such as decreased range of motion, weakness in certain leg muscles, limited hip rotation when compared with your other side, and increased tenderness/soreness around your buttocks and/or lower back due to tightness in the piriformis muscle from swelling (i.e., inflammation). Your doctor may also request additional tests such as an X-ray or EMG (electromyogram) to rule out other possible causes of your pain before confirming a diagnosis.

If you are experiencing persistent pain down one side of your leg between your hip and foot which hasn’t been relieved through rest and medication, it’s important that you consult an experienced neurosurgeon right away as untreated sciatica can deteriorate quickly if left unchecked – particularly if there is swelling around the piriformis muscle due to abnormal tightening or spasms.

Your specialist will work with you to determine whether sciatica is being caused by Piriformis Syndrome or something else entirely and provide an appropriate treatment plan accordingly.


The cause of sciatica pain can vary depending on the underlying condition. However, trauma to the nerve or its surrounding structures is one of the most common causes. Trauma can be direct, such as a broken bone, or it can be indirect from an energy trauma such as an MVA (motor vehicle accident) or a sports injury.

Direct trauma to the sciatic nerve often occurs due to pelvic fractures and hip dislocations. When these bones move out of alignment, they can pinch the sciatic nerve which then causes symptoms in both legs and feet that radiate away from the injured area into other areas such as your buttocks, calves, or even feet.

Indirect trauma usually occurs when force is transferred to a nearby structure which then compresses the sciatic nerve and causes pain and discomfort in those same areas mentioned above. Energy traumas are also seen in contact sports like football where impacts during tackles and blocks transfer massive amounts of energy to nearby hamstrings resulting in compression of local nerves, including the sciatic nerve.

Although trauma resulting from broken bones and motor vehicle accidents are common causes for developing painful sciatica symptoms there are many other forms that can cause these same symptoms for different reasons.

Sciatica might also occur with no known cause at all or due to degenerative conditions such as arthritis, lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) disc herniation (damaged disc bulging outward), pregnancy-related issues, etc–all leading to compression of the sciatic nerve causing painful symptoms below which may feel like stabbing electric shocks down both legs!


Sciatica pain is caused by nerve impingement, which can be caused by a variety of conditions, including spondylolisthesis. This condition occurs when one of the parts of a vertebra slips over an adjacent vertebra and can result in severe pain, muscle weakness, and numbness along the path of the sciatic nerve. It can also be accompanied by an alteration in walking gait.

Spondylolisthesis is most commonly caused by physical stress or trauma to the lower back, such as intense lifting or a car accident; however, it can also result from long-term wear and tear, such as age-related spinal degeneration or weakened facet joints, or even bone spurs. It has been found that approximately 5%–7% of adults have some form of spondylolisthesis and whether or not this condition causes symptoms is often correlated with the degree to which it slips.

A physical examination in combination with plain radiographs is a good indication for diagnosis. A less common type called developmental spondylolisthesis occurs in children during periods when their spine grows rapidly and results from laxity structures that permit displacement beyond the normal movement capabilities of those structures. This type resolves spontaneously without treatment as those structures strengthen during growth.

It’s important to understand if you do have lumbar spondylolisthesis that may be contributing to your sciatica symptoms because managing this underlying cause may help relieve your severe pain; on the other hand, if other causes such as bone spurs are more significant for you than technically particular activities should contribute more relief than addressing any underlying condition as Spondylolisthesis would.


Spinal stenosis is a common cause of sciatica pain. It occurs when the spinal canal narrows, placing pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots branch, which can lead to lumbar radiculopathy. It most often affects individuals in their lumbar (lower) spine, but can also impact the cervical (upper) spine and thoracic (middle).

Stenosis can be caused by a variety of issues, such as thickening of ligaments or vertebral fractures from an injury, changes in shape or size such as when there’s arthritis of the joints in between vertebrae or due to a herniated disc compressing one or more spinal nerve roots, or even a tumor in or around the spine or other medical conditions.

When spinal stenosis places pressure on your nerve roots it creates inflammation that causes sciatica pain. Depending on how significantly your spinal canal has been narrowed will determine how severe your pain is and how long it lasts. If not treated properly, this type of pain can become chronic and persistent.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available to help relieve pressure off the affected area like medication, physical therapy, and over-the-counter creams. Surgery may also be considered if all else fails – minimally invasive techniques like laser surgery reduce inflammation while maintaining natural movements of all nearby muscles and joints to help alleviate lumbar radiculopathy so you can enjoy an active lifestyle again with ease!


Degenerative disc disease is an extremely common cause of sciatica pain, and it is incredibly prevalent, as the majority of adults will experience some degree of disc degeneration by the time they become senior citizens. The most frequent type of degenerative disc disorder is called disc desiccation, which involves a decrease in the water content inside intervertebral discs.

As people age, the discs drop in this water content, making them more brittle and susceptible to herniated disk injury. The primary risk factor for developing degenerative disc disease is age but other factors can hasten its progression. These include improper lifting mechanics and an unhealthy weight, both of which can cause premature wear and tear on spinal discs.

Over time, this causes disc degeneration — a process that becomes almost inevitable in middle-aged adults; nonetheless, there are lifestyle modifications that can decrease its occurrence or at least slow it down. Strengthening core muscles and exercising regularly can help maintain proper posture and support healthy spinal discs — even once the damage from aging has started to set in.

Additionally, smokers are much more prone to developing degenerative disc disease than those who don’t smoke due to reduced blood flow to cervical spine discs; thus, quitting smoking could also reduce your chances of spinal pain related to DDD caused by a herniated disk.

Unfortunately, since age is such an unavoidable risk factor it’s almost impossible to avoid developing some degree of disc degradation as we get older; however, by making necessary lifestyle adjustments we may be able to decrease our chances of experiencing severe sciatica due to DDD caused by a herniated disk.

Herniated Discs

Herniated discs are a common cause of sciatica pain. Discs are rubbery cushions, also known as intervertebral discs, that act as shock absorbers in your spine. They are located in between each vertebra from the cervical (upper body) to the lumbar spine (lower body). The disc has two main components – an outer wall, or annulus fibrosus, and an inner layer referred to as the nucleus pulposus.

The annulus fibrosus consists of several layers of tissue arranged like the spokes on a bicycle wheel. Its job is to provide strength and stability for your spine’s flexibility.

The nucleus pulposus acts as the center of it all. It’s made up of hyaluronic acid and other chemical irritants which act as a cushion for every vertebra and allows your spine to absorb shock and withstand stress when you move around.

When you have a herniated disc, some of the gel-like material inside the disc may leak out through a tear or crack in its outer wall — this is referred to as a disc herniation — and press directly against the nearby nerve, triggering significant pain. This occurs because when this material presses against the nerve root it causes inflammation, which further then causes localized pain along your back or legs depending on which level of your spinal column is affected specifically by this contained disc disorder.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Several factors can increase your chances of experiencing sciatica nerve pain, including degenerative disc disease, a previous spine injury, or other damage. Some jobs that require repetitive squatting may put you at higher risk by placing an unhealthy amount of pressure on the discs in your back.

Extra weight or stress can also be big contributors, so those who are overweight or work a physically demanding job are more susceptible to feeling the effects. Weakened core muscles can lead to sciatica, and it’s important to stay active and do regular core exercises like crunches, planks, and squats to help maintain strength as we age – older age increases risk too. Being inactive for long periods of time can also cause sciatica, as muscles become less effective at providing protection for nerves in the spine.

Sciatica is often caused by a combination of potential causes such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine), isthmic spondylolisthesis (shifting vertebrae), pregnancy-related issues such as pelvic misalignment or postural changes due to added weight on the abdomen., and muscle tension in the buttocks and lower back – these are among the most common causes.

Work-related strains caused by certain occupations can also result in sciatic nerve pain. Always make sure you’re getting enough rest when engaging in any type of physical activity and consult with your doctor if you suspect any type of medical issue, such as isthmic spondylolisthesis, is causing your symptoms.

How Is Sciatica Treated?

The treatment of sciatica is divided into two general categories: nonsurgical and surgical treatments. Both approaches are designed to reduce the pressure that is being put on the sciatic nerve, whether this is due to a herniated or bulging disc, spinal stenosis, or any other factor of sciatica causes.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Most common non-surgical treatments for sciatica include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxers, alternative techniques such as acupuncture, and ice packs. Your doctor will usually advise you to start with a combination of gentle stretches and exercises that are designed to create more room in your spinal canal while also reducing inflammation in the muscles that affect the sciatic nerve.

This can often reduce symptoms significantly. In some cases, however, medications such as prescription medications or over-the-counter pain relievers may be recommended by your doctor. Spinal injections may be useful in reducing inflammation and providing relief from pain.

Surgical Treatments

In more severe cases of sciatica where nonsurgical treatments have failed to provide relief from symptoms, surgery might actually be needed to properly address the underlying reason for the pressure on your Sciatic nerve and to permanently ease symptoms.

Types of surgery performed include laminectomy, which involves removing part of the vertebrae in order to make more room around your spine; microdiscectomy which removes herniated discs from your spine; and decompression surgery which removes bony growths within your spinal canal—all three procedures can offer lasting relief from chronic pain due to a Sciatica flare-up.

The first step is always talking with your doctor about all possible recommendations for the treatment depending upon your particular cause of Sciatica flare-ups. They’ll make sure you understand what treatment plan options are available so you can choose one that best meets your needs for recovery and long-term health goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, stress can be a contributing factor to the worsening of symptoms of sciatica. Stress can cause the body to tense up, leading to increased pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can cause pain and other symptoms associated with sciatica. Consider taking breaks throughout the day to relax and reduce stress levels.

The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the human body. It runs from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the back of each leg. It is responsible for controlling the muscles of the lower legs and providing sensation to the thighs, legs, and feet. When this nerve is compressed or irritated, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs, as well as a tingling sensation in the feet. Sciatica is a term used to describe the symptoms of sciatic nerve compression or irritation.

Sciatica is usually caused by a combination of factors, such as a herniated disc in the lumbar spine, a bone spur pressing on a nerve, or a condition such as spinal stenosis that causes the spinal canal to narrow and compress the nerves. Other potential causes include muscle imbalances, pregnancy, poor posture, or a sedentary lifestyle.


When dealing with sciatica, the key is to remain proactive. It is important to consider both medical and complementary treatments, tempered with a healthy dose of caution. Physical therapy and strengthening exercises, as well as chiropractic care, are often effective at providing pain relief caused by nerve compression.

Cold compresses, hot baths, and massage can also be helpful in treating sciatica-related pain. In more severe situations, steroid medications or prescription drugs may be prescribed for further pain relief. It is important to explore all options carefully before proceeding with any treatment for sciatica pain because every person’s situation is unique.

Overall, it is prudent to consult your doctor about a comprehensive plan for addressing and providing relief from your sciatica-related condition that includes chiropractic care. With proactive treatment strategies and a positive outlook, many people are able to significantly reduce their sciatica symptoms and enjoy an improved quality of life free from the painful sensation associated with having compressed or irritated the sciatic nerve.


Spine Institute NY