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Sciatica Causes: Where is my Sciatica Pain Coming From?

June 07, 2017 in Sciatica

Sciatica Pain: Where is it coming from?

Sciatica is a fairly common condition that leads to lower back and leg pain and is ultimately caused by an irritation of the sciatic nerve. But what causes this irritation in the first place? Sciatica causes are most commonly related to another medical condition affecting your spine, but other factors can contribute to the condition as well such as age and activity level. Let’s take a deeper look at what may be causing your sciatica.

Irritation of the sciatic nerve most commonly occurs as a result of another medical condition relating to the lower back. Genetics, the natural ageing process, and injuries, all play a role in these types of medical conditions that contribute to the causes of sciatica and sciatica-like pain.

Most common causes of sciatic nerve irritation:

  • Lumbar herniated disc
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

sciatica nerve pain

1. Lumbar Herniated Disc

Also known as a pinched nerve or a slipped, bulging, ruptured or protruding disc, a herniated disc is caused by the inner substance of a vertebral disc leaking out through the disc’s fibrous outer core. When this material leaks, or herniates, it can pinch or otherwise irritate the contiguous nerve root. When this occurs in the lumbar region of the spine, the pinched nerve can cause numbness down the leg, sharp burning sensations, or numbness as well as lower back pain.

2. Lumbar spinal stenosis

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that can result from multiple issues such as an overgrowth of soft tissue, enlarged facet joints or a bulging disc. It’s related to the natural ageing process of the spine and is often associated with spinal arthritis. Because of this, lumbar spinal stenosis and the associated sciatic pain is fairly common in adults over 60 years of age.

3. Degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease occurs when a vertebral disc becomes weakened and causes too much micro-motion in the spine. The result is the inflammatory proteins inside the disc becoming exposed and irritating the surrounding nerve roots. Bone spurs can also occur as a result of degenerative disc disease. When this disease develops in the lower part of the spine, it can irritate the sciatic nerve.

4. Piriformis syndrome

Piriformis syndrome doesn’t technically cause sciatica, but it can cause pain similar to that of sciatica. The piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks and the sciatic nerve runs directly beneath it. So when the muscle pinches or irritates a nearby nerve, the sciatic nerve can be affected and cause pain or discomfort.

5. Isthmic spondylolisthesis

When a stress fracture causes one vertebra to slip forward onto another vertebra, isthmic spondylolisthesis occurs. The combination of a fracture, the disc slipping forward and the collapse of disc space can pinch the nerve and cause sciatica.

6. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

Dysfunction or irritation of the sacroiliac joint does not technically cause sciatica, but like piriformis syndrome, it can cause sciatica-like pain. The sacroiliac joint is located at the base of the spine just below your lumbar vertebrae. When this joint becomes irritated, it can also irritate the L5 nerve that lies between the lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum and cause pain similar to that of sciatica.

risk factors for sciatica

Risk Factors for Sciatica

Sciatica is a very common ailment that affects a wide range of individuals. There are, however, certain risk factors to take into consideration that cause certain individuals to be more prone to developing sciatica than others.

  1. Age: Many of the aforementioned conditions occur naturally with age. 
  2. Diabetes: Diabetes is a common disease that relates to the way your body regulates your blood sugar levels. It can also make you more prone to nerve damage.
  3. Activity level: Your occupation and activity level can also increase your risk of developing sciatica. Individuals with a less active lifestyle are also more prone to developing sciatica than those with more active lifestyles.
  4. Obesity: Obesity means that there is more body weight pressing down on your spine. This extra stress and pressure can lead to changes in your spine that may irritate your sciatic nerve.

Learn More About Sciatica

Understanding the causes of your sciatica is integral to your treatment plan and helping your condition to improve. 

Get more information on sciatic nerve pain

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