When discussing sciatica it is important to understand the underlying medical cause of the sciatica symptoms, as effective treatment will focus on addressing the root cause of the pain.
6 most common causes of sciatica
There are 6 lower back problems that are the most common causes of sciatica:
Lumbar herniated disc
A herniated disc is sometimes referred to as a slipped disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc, protruding disc, or a pinched nerve. Sciatica is the most common symptom of a lumbar herniated disc.
Read more: Lumbar Herniated Disc
Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed when a weakened disc results in excessive micro-motion at that spinal level, and inflammatory proteins from inside the disc become exposed and irritate the nerve root(s) in the area.
Read more: Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
With a combination of disc space collapse, the fracture, and the vertebral body slipping forward, the nerve can get pinched and cause sciatica.
Read more: Isthmic Spondylolisthesis
Lumbar spinal stenosis
The condition typically results from a combination of one or more of the following: enlarged facet joints, overgrowth of soft tissue, and a bulging disc placing pressure on the nerve roots, causing sciatica pain.
Read more: Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: A Definitive Guide
This is not a true radiculopathy (the clinical definition of sciatica), but the leg pain can feel the same as sciatica caused by a nerve irritation.
Read more: What is Piriformis Syndrome?
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
The leg pain can feel the same as sciatica caused by a nerve irritation.
Read more: Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction (SI Joint Pain)
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More causes of sciatica
In addition to the most common causes, a number of other conditions can cause sciatica, including:
- Pregnancy. The changes that the body goes through during pregnancy, including weight gain, a shift on one's center of gravity, and hormonal changes, can cause sciatica during pregnancy.
- Scar tissue. If scar tissue compresses the nerve root, it can cause sciatica.
- Muscle strain. In some cases, inflammation related to a muscle strain can put pressure on a nerve root and cause sciatica.
- Spinal tumor. In rare cases, a spinal tumor can impinge on a nerve root in the lower back and cause sciatica symptoms.
- Infection. While rare, an infection that occurs in the low back can affect the nerve root and cause sciatica.
It is important to know the underlying clinical diagnosis of the cause of sciatica, as treatments will often differ depending on the cause.
For example, specific sciatica exercises, which are almost always a part of a treatment program, will be different depending on the underlying cause of the symptoms.