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Is Your Back Pain Really Sciatica?

Last Updated: May 6th, 2019 at 05:56 pm
Read Time: 4 Minutes

Almost everyone that complains about lower back pain refers to their pain as sciatica. About 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. However, only 5-10 percent of patients with lower back pain actually have sciatica. So, what’s the difference between back pain and sciatica?

At ChiroCare of Florida we look at every possible variable before giving out a diagnosis. Continue reading to discover variables we look at to determine if your back pain is truly sciatica, or something else.

Understanding Sciatica

Before we even start, it is important to understand what sciatica truly is. Sciatica is merely nerve pain. The term sciatica is used to describe the pain that travels through the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower spine and down the back of the legs. When the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated by an issue in your lower back, then you’re diagnosed with sciatica.

Sciatic pain is expressed as being a shooting pain that radiates down the back of one leg. Sometimes people experience burning, numbness, or tingling sensations along the path of the nerve. This pain is the result of some sort of irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica is actually the result of other health conditions such as a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, lumbar spinal stenosis, or spondylolisthesis. While most people refer to any type of lower back pain or leg pain as sciatica, there are many causes associated with this type of pain.

Conditions that Mimic Sciatica

So, if your lower back pain is not sciatica, what could it be? Many spinal conditions can cause similar symptoms, which may lead you to believe you have sciatica. Likewise, many conditions share sciatica symptoms since they’re affecting the same spinal region, and usually involve some of the same nerve pathways.


Joint problems in the spine can sometimes cause pain radiating from the joints into the legs. However, that’s not technically sciatica. For arthritis, anti-inflammatory medication and nonsurgical therapies such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, and massage therapy might be suggested to preserve joint motion and reduce back pain.

Joint Dysfunction

When the sacroiliac joints, the joints in between the sacrum and the ilium bone of the pelvis, are affected, lower back, hip, and leg pain are commonly experienced. Again, this is not sciatica. Instead, sacroiliac joint dysfunction can cause debilitating pain and require a treatment focused on restoring normal motion within the joint. To achieve that, chiropractors utilize spinal adjustments to stabilize the lower spine and make sure the joints are in alignment to help ease back pain symptoms.

Piriformis Syndrome

When the piriformis muscle in the buttocks irritates the sciatic nerve, someone is suffering from piriformis syndrome. The reason why piriformis syndrome is not considered sciatica is because the nerve irritation does not start in the lower back. Piriformis syndrome needs physical therapy to heal and can benefit from ultrasound therapy to help bring down the inflammation causing pain.

Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Sciatica

A quick search for sciatica symptoms is what most people go through to self-diagnose themselves with sciatica. In fact, people perform this search nearly 60,500 times per month!

Lower back pain, shooting pain that radiates into one leg, burning and pinning sensations, electrifying pain in the lower back, all of these are common sciatica symptoms. But, that doesn’t mean your back pain is really sciatica.

Self-diagnosing your back pain as sciatica and choosing to try to self-treat the symptoms can ignore the bigger picture. Many serious spinal conditions mimic sciatica symptoms:

  • Spinal tumors
  • Spinal infection
  • Cauda equina syndrome

In this case, these conditions may require immediate medical attention. To accurately diagnose these conditions, patients must undergo imaging testing and more. If you have been experiencing sciatica-like symptoms, do not rule out other conditions. Visit a qualified doctor to exclude any other conditions and receive an accurate diagnosis.

Getting a Diagnosis

The bottom line is there are many things to consider before diagnosing sciatica. If you feel symptoms such as lower back pain that radiates into the buttocks and legs, numbness sensations, or pins and needles in your legs, you should contact a doctor for a clinical diagnosis.

A qualified physician will look at the different symptoms, supporting medical diagnostic imaging, and previous injuries to determine if your back pain is really sciatica. From there, you and your physician can start a treatment plan to help you find back pain relief.

If you feel like your back pain might be sciatica, contact ChiroCare of Florida today and schedule an appointment at any of our convenient locations in South Florida to help put an end to your back pain symptoms.

About the Author:
Dr. Steven Schwartz
Raised in Coral Springs, Florida, Dr. Steven Schwartz is a major advocate for the South Florida community. CEO of ChiroCare of Florida, Dr. Schwartz has grown the group from one facility to 11. Whether he’s treating patients or volunteering for community service, Dr. Schwartz’s long-term goal is to ensure that each and every patient can experience the ChiroCare of Florida difference.
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