Sciatic Pain – Common Causes


Sciatic pain is associated with irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. A patient typically experiences it from the lower back to behind the thighs, extending down below the knee. The type of pain can vary, and can be caused by multiple factors. Sciatic pain is mainly caused by irritation of the roots of the lower spine.


Some most common causes of sciatic pain are as follows:


  • Narrowing of the central spinal canal in the lower back. This is known as lumbar spinal stenosis.
  • Increased pressure on the nerve in the lower back, because of reduced space between the vertebrae. This is called lateral stenosis.
  • Lumbar herniated disc
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Spinal fixation
  • Muscular referred pain


Sounds complex? Let’s explain a bit further…


Lumbar spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition is more common in adults above the age of 60. It typically originates from the overgrowth of soft tissue, enlarged joints of the spine or a bulging disc placing pressure on the nerve roots. It can cause pain down one leg or both.


Lateral stenosis occurs when the nerves become irritated or compressed whilst leaving the spine through the nerve roots. Generally, this is because the exit holes for the nerves are too small. This can often be associated with degenerative changes to the spine. The majority of early degenerative changes can be down to previous injuries and traumas to the spine. This could be caused by falls, motor vehicle accidents and sports related trauma.


Lumbar herniated discs happen when part of the disc pushes out backwards through its own fibrous tissue layers. A herniated disc is also known as slipped disk, protruding disc, ruptured disk or bulging disc. Sciatic pain is one of the most common symptoms of lumbar herniated disc, as the disc material will put pressure on the nerve causing irritation and pain.


Piriformis syndrome is an injury where the piriformis muscle (which is found in the buttock area) becomes short and tight. This ends up pressurising the sciatic nerve against the bones of the pelvis. This causes irritation to the nerve, which leads to sciatic pain.


Lumbar spine fixations mean the altered position, movement and alignment of vertebrae in the lower back. This condition can lead to sciatic pain because of a functional loss in the lower back. If the muscles respond to protect against the lack of movement, this could place more pressure onto the joints. It can cause pain very similar to that of sciatic pain.


Other possible factors in sciatic pain are:

* being overweight

* wearing high heels

* lack of regular exercise  

* sleeping on a mattress that is too soft


There are multiple causes of sciatic pain, and therefore it follows that the pain can vary too. Some patients find that it can be worse when sitting. Others may experience numbness or weakness in the leg, or difficulty moving the leg and foot. There may be a constant pain on one side of the rear. If you are experiencing these symptoms, go to your GP to get a diagnosis. You may need to have an MRI or CT scan to find the source of the problem. In addition to help from your GP, practitioners such as chiropractors can carry out tests to examine the cause of pain. Alongside an accurate history of the complaint, these tests can be used to figure out the cause of your sciatic pain. Most importantly, don’t suffer in silence – go and see a practitioner and start your journey to managing your pain.