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Learn the 3 most common reasons for sciatica pain

3 Things That Might Be Causing Your Sciatica

Sciatica pain is a symptom that signals an underlying medical issue. It often shows up as:

  • A sharp or electric-shock sensation that runs down one side of your body, down your buttock, behind your thigh and calf;
  • Weakness or numbness in your leg, foot, or toes; and/or
  • Pain that worsens when you transition from a seated position to standing and/or walking.

See Sciatica Symptoms


The term sciatica refers to symptoms of pain, numbness, and/or weakness that radiate along the sciatic nerve. Sciatica often results from lower back disorders between the L4 and S1 levels that cause irritation to a lumbar nerve root. Watch: Sciatica Animated Video

What’s causing your sciatica? One of these 3 problems might be the culprit:

See Back Muscles and Low Back Pain

1. Herniated disc

A herniated disc in the lumbar spine, sometimes called a slipped disc or bulging disc, is a common cause of sciatica pain.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: What You Should Know

A disc acts as a cushion between your vertebrae. A herniation occurs when a disc’s tough exterior breaks and its gelatinous inner contents (nucleus pulposus) leak out. Sometimes this material gets into the space that is only supposed to be occupied by nerves. When it pushes against your nerves, inflammation—and pain—occurs.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc Symptoms

Though sciatica pain from a herniated disc may feel sudden, it typically is the result of gradual wearing-down of your disc from daily repetitive movements and not necessarily triggered by a specific trauma. However, an accident or sudden injury—caused by lifting furniture or shoveling snow, for example—is enough to herniate a disc. Not everyone who has a lumbar herniated disc experiences symptoms.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: Causes and Risk Factors

2. Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is often the source of sciatica pain. It occurs when one vertebra slips forward over the vertebra directly underneath it. This slippage may happen because of a fracture or other spinal instability.

See Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis can be caused by a sudden event, such as a fall or some other accident, but in most cases, it occurs gradually from cumulative stress as the joints in your spine degenerate over time.

See Isthmic Spondylolisthesis

The majority of people who have spondylolisthesis don’t show symptoms. People who do experience symptoms often report a sharp or burning pain that radiates down their buttocks and legs, and their legs may feel tired and/or tingly. Sitting in a reclining position often helps ease the pain from spondylolisthesis.

See Degenerative Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

3. Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is another possible suspect for what’s causing your sciatica pain. This condition involves the narrowing of the spaces in your spine that nerves travel through. If these spaces get too cramped, they put pressure on your nerves, triggering sciatica pain.

See What is Spinal Stenosis?

People with spinal stenosis are typically comfortable when they rest but cannot walk far without developing leg pain. Pain relief is achieved, sometimes immediately, when they sit down again.

See Spinal Stenosis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Spinal stenosis can occur in either the cervical or lumbar spine. Only lumbar spinal stenosis is responsible for sciatica pain. This condition is related to the degeneration of the spine, so it’s more commonly found in people who are middle-aged or older.

See Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: A Definitive Guide

This list isn’t exhaustive; several underlying conditions can cause sciatic and sciatica-like pain. To find a treatment that’s effective for you, talk to a doctor for a clinical diagnosis.

See Sciatica Treatment

Learn more:

What You Need to Know About Sciatica
Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica

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