Why Do I Have Sciatica?

Named for the nerve it irritates, sciatica can cause a wide variety of symptoms that typically wax and wane in intensity and may not occur where or when you’d expect. That low back pain you’ve been thinking of as sciatica may not be related to your sciatic nerve at all, but the burning discomfort in your left leg could be.  

The specialists at the Pain Institute of Southern Arizona are well-versed in diagnosing and treating sciatica. Highly respected for their innovative and practical approach to helping you overcome chronic pain challenges, these board-certified pain management experts provide a full complement of services from locations in Tucson, Green Valley, Safford, and Benson, Arizona.

Learn what these compassionate and skilled physicians have to say about what might be causing your sciatica.

Understanding the sciatic nerve  

As the longest and thickest nerve in your body, the sciatic nerve is composed of five nerve roots: two from the lumbar region (lower back) and three from the structure that looks like an inverted triangle at the lowest portion of the spine (sacrum).

These five nerve roots join and form the right and left sciatic nerves, one on each side of your body, that runs through the hips, buttocks, back of each thigh before ending just below the knees. The nerve then branches into smaller nerves as it continues down the leg to foot and toes.

What this means for you is that sciatica pain can run from the top of the nerve to its ending point. The discomfort may also occur sporadically along the nerve’s pathway (distribution), i.e., in the back of your thighs but not in the buttocks/hip.

What causes sciatica?

Unlike muscular strain, which is a common cause of low back pain, true sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve(s) are compressed and irritated at their origin (top of the buttock). This causes them to respond with various levels of pain and other symptoms, i.e., tingling, numbness, weakness, that can occur anywhere along the nerve’s distribution (path).

What conditions lead to sciatica?

Conditions that may cause the nerve irritation that leads to sciatica include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Bulging disc
  • Trauma/injury to the spinal column
  • Spondylolysis 
  • Piriformis syndrome, which causes a muscle deep in the buttocks to spasm and irritate the sciatic nerve

Many conditions, such as degenerative disc disease or osteoarthritis, may cause back pain but are not true sciatica if they do not infringe upon the sciatic nerve.

For an accurate diagnosis of what’s causing your symptoms and a customized treatment strategy that relieves your pain and restores your mobility, visit the Pain Institute of Southern Arizona today. We can help!