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It Might not be Sciatica

Many times you will hear people tell you how their sciatica is “acting up”. Very often they complain of low back, buttock and leg pain and just assume this is the problem.

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There is a very good chance that pain which originates in the back and shoots down the leg is sciatica, also known as lumbar radiculopathy, but there is also a chance it is not. Sciatica is caused by something like a disc or bone spur in the spine pressing on one of the lumbar nerves and radiating pain to the legs. It is generally one sided.

In these days of self-diagnosis, many people look up the symptoms, and adopt the diagnosis given to them. Unfortunately, a “nerve type” leg pain can be the symptom of many other problems that will need treatment.

Hip Arthritis can cause a groin to thigh pain that closely resembles sciatica. An x-ray and physical exam can differentiate these complaints.

Circulatory disease can cause weakness and pain in lower extremities. It is most often bilateral, unless there is a blockage in one leg or the other. Always take note of what causes the pain and what relieves it. Circulatory testing is easily available and should be sought for long standing leg pain.

Pinched nerves outside the spine such as in the hip or knee can also cause severe pain. Physical exam and history should help with diagnosis.

Finally, a stomach or pelvic tumor can cause enough pressure from the abdominal cavity to cause back pain and pressure on the nerves and arteries of the lower extremities. This could also mimic a sciatic pain.

Diabetes can cause leg problems as can severe obesity and spinal stenosis.

So it’s human nature to look up your symptoms and self- diagnose but you are always taking a chance when you do it. If you have back pain and /or leg pain that does not resolve in a timely manner. Get it checked! Sometimes “Dr. Google” is wrong.

Last modified: December 11, 2020

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