When Sciatic Pain Really Isn’t

If you’ve ever dealt with lower back pain, then you’ve probably dealt with some form of sciatic pain during your life.  In fact, there are over three million cases of sciatica each year that plague Americans.  With how common this condition is, it’s no surprise that many doctors will diagnose most lower back pain as sciatica, when in reality there are other problems in the spine and pelvic region that can mimic the symptoms of sciatica.  

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a condition where the sciatic nerve that branches from your spinal cord and runs through your pelvis and down your legs has excess pressure put on it, causing radiating pain.  This pain is often identifiable from other types of back injuries and conditions due to the unique numbness and tingling that tends to radiate down the legs, causing weakness, pain, and instability.  This pressure can be caused by tight muscles, degenerative discs, or a variety of other problems in your sacral spine.

Conditions that mimic sciatica.

While you would think that only sciatica could cause this type of pain and the symptoms associated with it, in fact there is another condition that easily mimics sciatica: sacroiliac joint dysfunction.  While there are many different names for sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction, they all mean that there is something wrong with your SI joint.  The SI joint is a small joint in the pelvis found on either side of the sacrum. This joint can easily become irritated, causing severe pain similar to sciatica.  More often than not, the SI joint will become irritated due to some other form of compensation, whether from a problematic knee or a degenerative disc, that causes you to walk and move differently than normal.  The less you move, the more this joint tightens, which causes large quantities of pain.  There are a couple of ways to distinguish been SI joint pain and sciatica in order to provide the right treatment.

The first thing to do to distinguish between the two conditions is to isolate the exact spot of pain.  In your back, if you’re experiencing very centralized pain, this may be sciatica.  If your pain has a very isolated point offset to either side of the spine, the odds are this is an SI joint-related issue.  Additionally, keep in mind that tingling and numbness down the legs is strongly linked with sciatica over SI joint problems.       

Treatment options.

There are a variety of SI joint and sciatica treatment options available to those suffering from either form of back pain.  For sciatic pain, there is a wide range of treatment options starting with pain management and physical therapy, all the way up to surgical spinal fusions.  The treatment option picked for you will be based upon the severity of your symptoms, your age, and your overall health.  It is always recommended to start with more conservative options before proceeding to more advanced options.  The most common treatment options for SI joint dysfunction involve physical therapy and SI joint injections.  These injections can be done without x-ray guidance, but fail over 70 percent of the time in that manner.  They are highly successful when the steroid and numbing agent are injected directly into the inflamed joint with fluoroscopy.

When your lower back hurts, whether from sciatica or SI joint dysfunction, turn to the experts at the Spine Institute of North America for treatment.  Schedule your appointment today.   


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