Sciatica and Back Pain

The Difference Between Sciatica and its Relationship to Back Pain


Most of the world will suffer from at least mild back pain at some point in their lives. From over-exertion to poor posture to age related degeneration, the back receives a great deal of use and abuse, which can often lead to many different back pain disorders. Some of these disorders may be more serious, like a spinal tumor or badly injured spine. Others are less serious, like degenerative disc disease.

One of the more painful and debilitating back pain issues is sciatica. Sciatica is not specifically a back pain disorder. Rather, it is a set of symptoms caused by pressure to the sciatic nerve. That pressure leads to:

  • Pain

  • Weakness

  • Tingling

In some cases it can also lead to incontinence and problems moving the legs (or arms, if the sciatica is in the upper portion of the spine). Back pain itself, however, may not be related to sciatica. When you have sciatica, the back pain tends to lead to other pain symptoms, such as:

  • Pain Radiation - Often those with sciatica will experience pain that radiates down to the appendages, possibly (though not always) all the way to the fingers or toes.

  • Pain Localization - Pain may also localize more in the leg and buttocks than in the back, although most sciatica pain does start in the back.

As a result, sciatica itself may not actually cause back pain itself, and when it does, that back pain may not be as painful to experience as the pain that radiates down the leg.

Back Pain and Sciatica Causes

Even though sciatica and back pain are not entirely related, back pain may be a warning sign that sciatica may occur. The causes of back pain are often also causes of sciatica including, but not limited to:

  • Herniated Discs

  • Trauma to the Lower Back

  • Degenerative Disc Disease

These issues may not necessarily cause sciatica, but rather back pain itself. However, the worse they get, the higher the risk they are of eventually causing sciatica, so back pain could be a warning sign that improper treatment or prevention methods of your back pain may eventually lead to sciatic symptoms.

Sciatica and back pain may not be synonymous with each other, but they are related, and when you experience back pain you may need to prepare for possible sciatic symptoms if you are not taking care of yourself properly.


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