What Causes Sciatica?

Discovering what causes sciatica can help you unlock the secret to pain relief. Identifying the causes of sciatica may be the difference between a lifetime of pain and agony or one that is relatively pain-free.

The primary cause of sciatica is compression of one or more of the nerve roots that comprise the sciatic nerve.

Pressure on the sciatic nerve alone, in the absence of inflammation will not cause sciatica. If nerve pressure alone could cause pain we would all be in constant pain of some sort as our nerves experience pressure or compression throughout the day.

It is only when there is enough pressure and where significant inflammation exists does the sciatica become evident.

Among other causes of sciatica is a piriformis syndrome. Here the sciatica nerve becomes overly compressed due to tightness of the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks and helps to rotate and extend the thigh.

When sciatica exists and no apparent nerve root compression can be identified at the spinal level then piriformis syndrome is likely the cause the sciatic.

Other Possible Sciatica Causes

Pressure on the sciatic nerve or its roots can be the result of disc bulging or disc prolapse, bony pressure due to spurs or bone thickening that narrows the foramen (called stenosis), or a space occupying lesion such as a tumor or perhaps a cyst.

The foramen are openings between the vertebrae where the nerve roots exit.

Sciatica Pain Imitator

Another common condition that can cause symptoms that can be mistaken for sciatica are trigger points of the gluteal, tensor fascia lata, iliopsoas and quadratus lumborum muscles.

If the pain is worse with sitting, inactivity, rest, or in the morning and is less noticeable with increasing activity then suspect trigger points as the cause of your symptoms.

On the other hand, sciatica due to nerve pressure is almost always made worse with activity due to the increase of nerve pressure with weight bearing.

Outside the spine there may be compressive forces to the sciatic nerve.

What causes sciatica other than nerve root pressure?

  • overly tight muscles, tendon
  • tumors (rare)
  • foreign bodies such as shrapnel, surgical metals (rare)

However, the primary cause of the pain and symptoms is compression of the nerve roots of the sciatic nerve.

While undergoing healing, pain or associated symptoms of sciatica may continue for awhile even after the pressure has been relieved due to any inflammation or until the nerve has healed.

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