The Myriad of Causes That Can Lead to Sciatica

Woman with severe back pain

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  • Being aware of the causes and risk factors of sciatica can help you prevent it from happening
  • Your risk of developing sciatica can increase depending on your habits, occupation and overall lifestyle
  • If you become injured and develop back pain as a result, you need to go to the doctor before serious complications arise

The sciatic nerve is considered to be the longest nerve in the human body, running from the lower spine all the way down into both of your feet.1 Due to this nerve’s size and length, sciatica can arise from various circumstances depending on how it is irritated. Some of the most common situations include:2

Lumbar Herniated Disc

This is a condition wherein the fluid inside a spinal disc leaks out from its membrane. The liquid contains certain proteins that can irritate your sciatic nerve, leading to the symptoms associated with sciatica.

Degenerative Disc Disease

This is a general term used to describe the gradual weakening of spinal discs. As you age, discs can gradually lose fluid, reducing their ability to act as shock absorbers. In other cases, tiny cracks may appear, causing them to break into fragments.3 The proteins inside these discs can leak into the nerves and irritate them, causing sciatica.

Isthmic Spondylolisthesis

An isthmic spondylolisthesis occurs when a single vertebra in your spine slips forward over another. This can result in your sciatic nerve getting pinched because of the misalignment.

Piriformis Syndrome

Your piriformis muscle is located in your buttocks and is essential for movement and balance. Underneath this lies your sciatic nerve, and when certain movements irritate it, sciatica can develop.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

This condition is essentially the narrowing of your spinal canal due to arthritis, enlarged facet joints or the overgrowth of soft tissue. The decreasing space gradually puts pressure on the nerves, which can eventually cause sciatica.

Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Your sacroiliac joint is found at the bottom of the spine that connects with your pelvic bones. Due to its close proximity to the sciatic nerve, unnatural movements can cause this area to become irritated and lead to sciatica.

Other Factors That May Cause Sciatica

Aside from spinal problems, other conditions that may not happen as often can still lead to sciatica. Prominent examples include:4

Pregnancy: In women, the sciatic nerve runs under the uterus down to the legs. During pregnancy, the nerve can become compressed due to the developing baby, which can result in sciatica.5

Scar tissue: Also known as epidural fibrosis, scar tissue forming near a nerve root can lead to a compressed lumbar nerve, thus increasing your risk of sciatica.

Muscle injury: A strained muscle in your lower back can place pressure on a nerve root and cause sciatic pain.

Tumor: Very rarely, a cancerous tumor may be tagged as a cause of sciatica, because it can grow on the sciatic nerve itself. Sciatica can also be a side effect of certain cancer treatments.6

Risk Factors of Sciatica

Your risk of developing sciatica can increase depending on your habits, occupation and overall lifestyle. Prominent factors you need to watch out for include:7

Age: As you grow older, the chances of developing spinal problems increase, which can result in sciatica.

Obesity: Excess weight can contribute to detrimental changes on your spine, as well as increasing joint pain.

Occupation: Physically demanding jobs may constantly put stress on your lower back.

Lifestyle: Prolonged sitting at work or at home can contribute to sciatica.

Diabetes: This condition has been known to increase your risk of nerve damage.

If Lower Back Pain Becomes Chronic, Visit a Doctor

Being aware of the causes and risk factors of sciatica can help you prevent it from happening in the first place. If you’re diabetic and currently follow a sedentary lifestyle, positive changes will need to be implemented right away before back pain occurs. If you become injured and develop back pain as a result, you need to go to the doctor as well before serious complications arise.

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Sciatica Prevention

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