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What are the Common Causes of Sciatica?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

The causes of sciatica all deal in some way with compression on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down either leg, and when pinched, it can cause sharp, stabbing pain in the lower back, buttocks, or down the legs. It can also cause numbness or a tingling sensation in these areas. Such pain is often called sciatica, though this is more of a symptom of a larger problem than a diagnosis on its own. Causes of sciatica include herniated discs, muscle strains, a slipped disk, injuries, or tumors.

A herniated disc occurs when the gel-like material between discs slips out from between the discs. The discs can then rub against each other, and the nerves in the lower back may become compressed. This is one of the causes of sciatica that will require further medical attention to address, as the implications of a herniated disc can be long-term and quite painful. A similar problem, called spondylolisthesis, or a slipped disc, occurs when one vertebra slips forward over another vertebra. This is another of the causes of sciatica that may need further medical attention; the sciatic nerve can become pinched between the vertebra or displaced muscles surrounding the vertebra, thereby causing sciatic pain. This condition is common among weight lifters and athletes, as well as people who regularly bear heavy loads.

Pregnancy can cause sciatica pain.
Pregnancy can cause sciatica pain.

Injuries, particularly sports injuries, are some of the most common causes of sciatica, particularly sports injuries. The severity of the injury may vary, which means treatment of sciatica in this case will vary as well. Impacts in sports such as hockey or football can cause muscles to clamp down on the nerve, or if a bone fractures or breaks, it may cause compression on the nerve. Automobile accidents, falls, sitting down for long periods of time, or even bumping into objects can lead to compression on the sciatic nerve, causing pain. In many such cases, a regular stretching routine can alleviate sciatic nerve pain by loosening the muscles and joints surrounding the nerve.

A herniated disc can cause sciatic nerve pain.
A herniated disc can cause sciatic nerve pain.

One of the more severe causes of sciatica is a tumor. Whether malignant or benign, a tumor — which is a growth of tough fibers — can cause pressure directly on the sciatic nerve, or on surrounding bones and muscles that can in turn put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Spinal tumors are not common, but if one is found, it will most likely have to be removed surgically.

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    • Pregnancy can cause sciatica pain.
      By: kamonrat
      Pregnancy can cause sciatica pain.
    • A herniated disc can cause sciatic nerve pain.
      By: Alila Medical Media
      A herniated disc can cause sciatic nerve pain.