Is It Just Back Pain or Do You Have Sciatica?

Is It Just Back Pain or Do You Have Sciatica?

Sciatica's sharp, shooting nerve pain can stop you in your tracks. It occurs when something irritates your sciatic nerve. This usually leads to pain that radiates from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down one leg.

You can develop sciatica at any age, but the risk usually increases with age. Fortunately, there are things you can do to get relief.

Stuart Hough, MD, and Ramani Peruvemba, MD, of Pain Management Specialists in Rockville and Frederick, Maryland, are board-certified in interventional pain management, and they can help you tame your sciatica pain. In this blog, they explain what sciatica is, what can cause it, and how you can get relief.

What is sciatica?

You have two sciatic nerves, one on each side of your body. On one side, several nerves branch out from your lower spine and combine, thus forming one of your sciatic nerves. On the other side, the same thing occurs. These nerves then travel through each buttock, down each leg, and into each foot.

If something irritates either of these sciatic nerves, pain can develop anywhere along their path.

What triggers sciatica?

Since irritation usually only occurs to one sciatic nerve at a time, pain is usually only felt on one side of the body. The most common causes are the following:

Herniated discs

Between each of your vertebrae are rubbery discs that help your spine absorb shock. If a disc herniates, or bulges, it can press on the sciatic nerve roots and cause pain.

Degenerative disc disease

With age, vertebral discs can begin to wear out. If this occurs, the space between each vertebra can shrink. And this, in turn, can put pressure on the sciatic nerve roots.

Bone spurs

With bone spurs, there is an overgrowth of bone tissue. These bony projections can grow in a number of places, including on the vertebrae. If this occurs, the excess bone tissue can press on the sciatic nerve roots.

Spinal stenosis

The spinal cord and sciatic nerve roots travel through a hollow canal in the spine. If the canal narrows — which is called spinal stenosis — this can put pressure on the spinal cord and sciatic nerve roots and result in sciatica.


Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra in the lower back slips forward over the vertebra below it. If this occurs, this can put pressure on the sciatic nerve roots.

Signs of sciatica

Lower back pain that travels down one leg is the most common symptom. This pain can be a dull, aching, shooting, or "burning" pain that radiates down one leg from your lower back and/or buttocks. The key symptom that indicates you have sciatica rather than another type of back pain is that the back pain is accompanied by leg pain.

You may also experience abnormal sensations, such as numbness or tingling sensations.

Furthermore, when you bend over, lift objects, twist, sit down, cough, or sneeze, your symptoms may worsen depending on where the compressed nerve is located. 

Getting relief from sciatica pain

Most patients with sciatica get better with time and by avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms. Furthermore, most patients respond well to nonsurgical treatments, such as medication, exercise, special sciatica stretches, and physical therapy.

If these measures don’t work and the pain is severe, an epidural steroid injection or a nerve root block is often the next step in getting relief. Before attempting steroid injections, a short course of oral steroids may be considered.

You don’t have to live with the pain of sciatica. To get the help you need, book an appointment online or over the phone with Pain Management Specialists today.

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