Although symptoms occur in the buttocks, hips, and legs, sciatica falls under the general umbrella of back pain. It results from various health conditions. Here are the six top root causes.

Sciatica as a form of back pain

First, it’s important to note that sciatica is not a diagnosis itself but instead is a symptom of another condition. It is also known as lumbar radiculopathy because the pain typically arises from the lumbar spine and radiates through the buttocks and legs to the feet.

Back pain as a general health condition is incredibly common. In fact, data from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases shows that 4 out of every 5 adults in the US suffer from back pain of some type. The area of the back that tends to be most associated with pain is the lower back.

Here are six of the most common causes of sciatic nerve pain.

Bulging / herniated disk

A spinal disk can experience bulging or herniation. In the case of bulging, the nucleus pulposus stays contained within the disk. With herniation, it protrudes out of the disk into the adjacent area. In either case, the gel-like substance can put pressure on nerves, resulting in sciatica.

Spinal stenosis

“Leg pain similar to sciatica may occur as a result of lumbar spinal stenosis,” notes Jean-Jacques Abitbol, MD, of SpineUniverse. “The pain is usually positional, often brought on by activities such as standing or walking and relieved by sitting down.”


Spondylolisthesis is another common condition that occurs in the lower back. If one vertebra within the spine slips over another one, that can compress the nerves and cause sciatica.


Trauma that is commonly experienced in sports or car crashes can lead to sciatic pain. In these cases, the nerves may become damaged themselves or pieces of bone can impinge the sciatic nerve.

Piriformis syndrome

The sciatic nerve extends from the lumbar spine to the feet. To get to the lower extremities, it goes underneath the piriformis muscle of the buttocks. “Piriformis syndrome develops when muscle spasms develop in the piriformis muscle thereby compressing the sciatic nerve,” explains Dr. Abitbol.

Spinal tumor

Finally, spinal tumors can develop. If so, the tumor can create an obstruction, leading to nerve impingement.

Expert pain relief

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