Top 5 Conditions that Can Cause Sciatica

Sciatica, Mass Ave Chiropractic

Approximately two in five people can expect to develop sciatica at some point in their adult lives, making it one of the most common forms of chronic pain among men and women alike.

Although sciatica may start as an irritating ache or discomfort in your lower back, it can eventually — or some cases, quickly — become the kind of disabling pain that radiates through your buttock and down the back of one of your legs, possibly reaching into your calf or even as far as the sole of your foot.

Sciatica, or sciatic nerve pain, occurs when something compresses or impinges on your sciatic nerve, usually where it’s rooted in your lumbar spine, or lower backbone. This major nerve — which happens to be the largest and longest nerve in your body — extends from your lower back through each of your hips and buttocks, and down the back of each leg, where it helps you feel and control your lower body.

Besides being a source of radiating pain or general ongoing discomfort, sciatica can also cause constant or periodic feelings of numbness or weakness anywhere along the nerve path. To provide effective, long-term relief for any sciatica symptom, it’s vital to determine the underlying cause of the problem.

If you suspect your unexplained lower back, hip, buttock, or back-of-the-leg pain may be sciatica, here’s what you need to know about the conditions and disorders that are most likely to cause it.

Common causes of sciatica

The vast majority of sciatica cases are a result of lower back disorders that irritate or put pressure on the sciatic nerve root.  The most common causes of sciatic nerve impingement (and pain) are:

Lumbar disc problems

When a disc in your lumbar spine bulges or slips even slightly outside its designated space in the spinal canal, it can irritate or put pressure on your sciatic nerve. Left untreated, a bulging disc may rupture, or herniate, and ooze some of its soft interior gel onto nearby nerves.

When a herniated lumbar disc affects your sciatic nerve, you may experience a burning pain sensation from your lower back and all the way through the back of your leg.

Degenerative disc disease

This common age-related condition occurs when your spinal discs contract, leaving them stiff, rigid, and less resistant to the impact of normal activity. A degenerating lumbar disc may have a tear in its tough exterior that allows its fluid to leak out onto your sciatic nerve root; it may also release inflammatory proteins that irritate nearby nerves further.

Left untreated, degenerating spinal discs can lead to the development of bone spurs, another potential source of sciatic nerve pressure.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, is usually caused by degenerative changes related to osteoarthritis. When your spinal canal becomes narrower in your lower back (a condition called lumbar stenosis), it can put pressure on your sciatic nerve and lead to a variety of uncomfortable or debilitating sciatica symptoms.

You may experience pain or cramping in one or both of your legs when you walk or after standing for long stretches; you may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in a leg or foot.

Piriformis syndrome

To reach down into your lower body, your sciatic nerve passes through an opening in your pelvis. Although it’s well-protected within that opening, it’s also situated directly under your piriformis muscle. When this small buttock muscle cramps or spasms, it can irritate your sciatic nerve and cause pain, numbness, or tingling along the back of your leg and down into your foot.   

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

Your sacroiliac (SI) joint is a firm joint that connects your pelvic bone to your sacrum, or the small triangular bone that sits between your lumbar spine and your tailbone. Its main job is to help transfer motion, load, and pressure from your spine to your body when you bend forward or backward.

SI joint dysfunction, which is generally the result of too much or too little movement within the joint, can lead to ongoing inflammation, muscle tension, reduced mobility, and chronic pain. If SI dysfunction irritates the nerve situated directly above the joint, it can cause sciatica-type pain that radiates down through your buttock and into your hamstring or calf.

Sciatica treatment solutions

Although sciatic nerve pain often begins gradually, it tends to intensify over time — and may even become long-term or permanent — if it’s ignored or left untreated for too long. To find the treatment solution that works best for you, it’s essential to diagnose the underlying cause of your problem.

Fortunately, sciatica often responds well to a combination of gentle chiropractic care, deep tissue massage, and therapeutic stretches. Depending on the exact nature of your problem, spinal decompression treatments can alleviate pressure on your sciatic nerve, improve blood flow to your spine, and help heal damaged discs.


If you’re ready to get to the root of your sciatica symptoms and find long-term relief, call our Indianapolis office today, or use our easy online booking tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Kielur any time.

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