What Can Be Mistaken For Sciatica: The Most Common Conditions

A woman in a gray shirt grabs her lower back as pain highlighted by a red aura notes the existence of sciatica or a condition that can be confused for sciatica.

Lower back pain is a common ailment affecting millions of Americans. In fact, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, approximately 75% to 85% of Americans will experience lower back pain at least once in their lifetime. However, identifying the exact cause of the pain can be challenging given the numerous conditions that can lead to it. 

Sciatica is one such condition that can cause lower back pain, but it’s not the only one. Are you experiencing lower back pain and wondering what can be mistaken for sciatica?

In this article, we’ll explore the commonalities between sciatica and other conditions that can produce similar symptoms. We’ll also discuss how working with a chiropractor could be the solution you need to alleviate your pain, regardless of its cause.

What is Sciatica? 

The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body, originating in the gluteal area of the lower back and extending through the legs and into the feet. It plays a crucial role in providing sensation and movement to many areas of the lower extremities and is a vital part of the nervous system.

Sciatica is a condition that occurs when external factors such as inflammation or irritation put pressure on the sciatic nerve or the tissues surrounding it. This pressure can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Pain: Sciatica frequently produces a strong, shooting pain in the lower back or buttocks that extends down one or both legs. The discomfort can be slight to severe, and movement might exacerbate it.
  • Numbness and tingling: Those who suffer from sciatica often have numbness or tingling in the afflicted leg, foot, or toes. 
  • Muscle weakness: It’s not uncommon for sciatica to produce weakness along the path of the affected nerve, which can make it challenging to perform mundane tasks such as standing up from a sitting position.
  • Sensory changes: Sciatica can induce numbness or other abnormal sensations, such as burning or prickling, in the afflicted leg.

Sciatica symptoms can range in intensity from mild to severe and can last for a few days or many years, depending on the cause. 

The sciatic nerve is formed by nerve roots located in the lower back or lumbar region of the body. Because they’re in a weight-bearing portion of the body, these nerve roots can be susceptible to irritation when they become compressed due to a variety of general causes, such as poor posture, herniated discs, leg length inequalities, and bone spurs.

What Can Be Mistaken For Sciatica?

Sciatica can share similar symptoms with other conditions, making it difficult to identify the exact cause of lower back and leg pain. This can lead to confusion and misdiagnosis.

So, what can be mistaken for sciatica? While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the most common conditions that can be mistaken for sciatica include:

Conditions That Can Be Mistaken For Sciatica
SciaticaPiriformis SyndromeLumbar Spinal StenosisHerniated Disc SI Joint DysfunctionNerve Entrapment
Pain LocationLower back, glutes, legs, feetGlutes, back of legsLower back, glutes, legsLower back, referred pain to legs Lower back, buttocks, legsAffected nerve, referred pain to lower back and legs
Pain PatternRadiatingLocalized LocalizedRadiating RadiatingRadiating
Numbness/ TinglingYesYesYesYesYesYes
Aggravated By Sitting/ InactivityYesNoYesNoYesNo
Pain with MovementYesYesYesYesYesYes
  1. Piriformis syndrome: Piriformis syndrome is a condition that occurs when the piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve, leading to pain and numbness in the buttocks and legs.
  2. Lumbar spinal stenosis: Lumbar spinal stenosis is a medical condition characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back. This can cause compression of the nerves that travel through the spinal canal, leading to pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs.
  3. Herniated discs: Herniated discs occur when the soft cushioning between the vertebrae in the spine ruptures or bulges, leading to pressure on nearby nerves and resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness in the affected area. Treatment options range from conservative methods such as physical therapy to more invasive procedures like surgery.
  4. SI joint dysfunction: Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction is caused by a misalignment or abnormal movement of the sacroiliac joint, which joins the sacrum bone with the pelvis. SI joint dysfunction often results in lower back and leg discomfort, stiffness, and muscular weakening.
  5. Nerve entrapments: Nerve entrapments are caused by the compression or pinching of nerves in the back, buttocks, or legs, resulting in pain, numbness, and other symptoms. 

Figuring out what’s causing your pain can be confusing, considering conditions like sciatica and lumbar spinal stenosis have similar symptoms. Misdiagnosis can delay the relief you’re seeking. 

However, chiropractic care can help! By working with a chiropractor who can accurately pinpoint the root cause of your pain, you’ll be on the fast track to long-term relief.

Some general chiropractic treatments for sciatica and other similar conditions include:

  • Chiropractic adjustments: Chiropractic adjustments involve the use of hands or small devices to apply gentle and controlled force to the spinal and pelvic joints. This helps increase mobility and reduce inflammation, irritation, and pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Massage therapy: Muscle therapies can help to alleviate the discomfort caused by sciatica by relaxing the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the sciatic nerve, thereby reducing inflammation and swelling that may be putting pressure on the nerve.

Chiropractic care also targets and corrects postural irregularities. Posture plays a key role in how weight is distributed across the lower back and lower extremities, and postural imbalances can cause these parts of the body to experience excess weight and pressure, exacerbating sciatica and other conditions.

For example, sciatica can be worsened by a forward-leaning posture or anterior pelvic tilt, which can increase pressure on the sciatic nerve. It’s important to identify the underlying cause of your pain, which is what the most effective chiropractic treatment plans are designed to address.

PostureWorks Kicks Sciatica to the Curb

Dealing with sciatica pain can be challenging, but what’s even more problematic is misidentifying its symptoms as another condition. This mistake can result in ineffective treatment, prolonging your recovery process. Thankfully, knowing what can be mistaken for sciatica is a great first step to effective treatment. 

At PostureWorks, we use Chiropractic BioPhysics® (CBP) as the foundation of our chiropractic treatment plans. By analyzing your medical history, spinal curvature, and pelvic alignment, we can identify the specific cause of your pain, whether it’s sciatica or another condition that can be mistaken for it. 

Our customized treatment plans aim to not only alleviate your symptoms but also improve your overall health. With our non-invasive approach, you can experience long-lasting relief and get back to enjoying a pain-free life.

Contact us today to learn more information on what can be mistaken for sciatica or to schedule your appointment with PostureWorks.

Chiropractic BioPhysics®, or CBP, is a deeply researched and results-oriented corrective care technique. CBP-trained chiropractors aim to realign the spine back to health and optimal function. As with all chiropractic care, CBP is conservative, painless, and non-invasive.

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