Do you have pain in your lower back? Is it radiating down your leg? You may wonder if you are experiencing sciatica or chronic lower back pain.
Sciatica is a medical condition caused by compression of nerve roots in the lower spine, resulting in lower back and leg pain. Some tips to relieve the pain are exercise and stretching, physical therapy, massage, heat and cold therapy, over-the-counter medications, and chiropractic care.
Read more: 5 Tips to Relieve Sciatica Pain.
On the other hand, lower back pain is an ache or discomfort in the area of your spine between the bottom of your rib cage and your buttocks. It can be problematic to tell the difference, but some key differences will help you determine which one you are suffering from.
How Does Sciatica Occur and What Are the Symptoms?
Your spinal column is made up of vertebral bones that are separated by discs. These cushioned discs help to protect your spine, as well as provide flexibility and movement.
Sciatica occurs when a disc becomes herniated or ruptured and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. A hernia is when a bulge or lump occurs in an organ or tissue due to internal pressure. The disc can also become narrowed due to osteoarthritis and cause sciatica.
Sciatica is often characterized by one-sided pain radiating from the lower back, through the buttocks, and into the legs.
Common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs
- Burning or tingling sensation in the legs
- Numbness or weakness in parts of the leg
- Difficulty moving or controlling the leg muscles
- Shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up
People suffering from sciatica may have difficulty with everyday tasks such as sitting, standing, and walking.
A pain specialist can help to diagnose the condition and recommend treatment.
How Does Lower Back Pain Differ from Sciatica?
Lower back pain is often described as an ache or stiffness in the lower back area, sometimes accompanied by muscle spasms. Sciatica is different in that the pain usually radiates from the lower back down one or both legs. It can also cause numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness along the affected path.
Lower back pain is often caused by a strain of the muscles and ligaments around the lumbar spine due to overuse, weak core muscles, and incorrect posture. The pain associated with lower back pain can be localized to just one area. For example, it might be felt in the buttocks or at the base of the spine.
Common causes of lower back pain include:
- Poor posture
- Exercise-related injury
- Slipped or herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
How Can a Pain Specialist Help?
A pain specialist can help determine the source of your back pain and recommend treatment options. They may use imaging techniques such as x-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans to get a better look at the area. After diagnosis, they can provide therapies that may include medications, physical therapy exercises, injections, or alternative treatments such as acupuncture or massage.