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What are the Different Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain?

Marisa O'Connor
Marisa O'Connor

Sciatic nerve pain, or sciatica, occurs when at least one of the five nerve roots in the lower back are compressed. There are several different lumbar disorders that can lead to compression of the sciatic nerve. Anything that irritates or compresses the sciatic nerve or sciatic nerve root will cause pain.

The sciatic nerve begins at the back of the pelvis and runs under the buttock and down into each leg. It is made of five sets of nerve roots from the lumbar spine. Pain often occurs when a disc rupture or abnormal bone growth in the lumbar spine compresses the nerve roots. Symptoms of nerve compression are radiating leg pain, chronic or sharp pain on one side of the buttocks, as well as a numbness, burning, and tingling sensation in the leg.

The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back.
The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back.

A common cause of sciatic nerve pain is lumbar bulging. Lumbar bulging is swelling of a lumbar spine disc. The outer shell of the disc remains intact, and the gel-like nucleus is contained within the disc. The swelling disc can apply pressure to the nerve root and result in sciatic pain.

A herniated disc is similar to lumbar bulging and also causes sciatic nerve pain. The herniated disc occurs when the fluid inside the lumbar spine disc expands out of the disc shell. This fluid can cause nerve compression. The fluid also contains a chemical that causes sciatic nerve irritation.

Sciatic nerve pain may occur as the uterus expands during pregnancy.
Sciatic nerve pain may occur as the uterus expands during pregnancy.

Sciatic nerve pain can occur during pregnancy. The expanding uterus will sometimes irritate or compress the sciatic nerve tissue. Pressure placed on the lumbar spine caused by the added weight may also lead to compression and therefore sciatic nerve pain.

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a common cause of sciatic nerve pain in the elderly population. This disorder occurs when the sciatic nerve roots are compressed in the narrow passageways, called neural foramina, in the hips between the bones and ligaments. The sciatic nerve roots use these passageways to travel from the lumbar to the legs. It is not uncommon for them to become clogged or blocked with age.

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

Sciatic nerve pain is also associated with displaced or slipped lumbar vertebrae. This condition is called spondylolisthesis. Sometimes spondylolisthesis is present at birth and develops during childhood. Physical stress, such as weight lifting, trauma, or spinal degeneration, are also causes of lumbar vertebrae slippage.

Sciatic nerve pain can also come from blunt force trauma to the lumbar region. An outside object can hit and compress the sciatic nerve or nerve root. Bone fragments can break loose from an injury and cause nerve compression. Injuries from sports or vehicle accidents are often associated with sciatic nerve pain.

Another cause of sciatic pain is a disorder called piriformis syndrome. Pirformis syndrome is caused by muscle spasms in the pirformis muscle, which runs directly above the sciatic nerve. When the muscle spasms, it irritates the nerve.

Discussion Comments


Some sciatic nerve pain is due to sciatic conditions that occur from birth. Stenosis for example, usually occurs in the elderly. But it can also be congenital, that is, present at birth. It's rare, but possible. I know someone who has it. She found out completely randomly when she had to get a spinal MR after a car accident.

I'm sure there are also other congenital spinal issues that cause sciatic nerve pain.


@SarahGen-- Have you received physical therapy? You should definitely go back to your doctor and let him know that your problems are continuing. I'm sure that something more could be done.

A neighbor of mine has a slipped disc I believe and she had mentioned something about acupuncture. I have no idea if it really works. There's probably no proof that it does, but since it's not a remedy that has side effects or risks, you could try it if your doctor approves.

If none of these work, I think doctors also give steroids such as cortisone to ease the inflammation and plain. So just talk to your doctor about your options.


I have a slipped lumbar vertebrae. I'm not physically very strong and I've had to do a lot of manual labor including lifting heavy objects for some years. My doctor thinks that this is the cause of the injury.

I've followed my doctors directions but I still experience pain. I don't lift anything that's heavy and I do my recommended exercises. It has been three years since the diagnosis and I'm just not getting any relief.

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    • The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back.
      By: underdogstudios
      The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back.
    • Sciatic nerve pain may occur as the uterus expands during pregnancy.
      By: Martinan
      Sciatic nerve pain may occur as the uterus expands during pregnancy.
    • A herniated disc can cause sciatic nerve pain.
      By: Alila Medical Media
      A herniated disc can cause sciatic nerve pain.