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.

Let’s talk…

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.

Hi, I'm Dr. John Shim, and I'd like to talk about sciatica-like complaints that do not come from the spine. In my other videos I've discussed the true nature of sciatica, and how it's a shooting-type pain that comes from irritations of the nerves in the lower back. It typically causes a shooting pain that originates from the lower back, travels down the buttock along the back of the thigh, and then radiates into the calves and into the toes. Most of the time its caused by a pinching of the nerve either by a disc herniation or a spine bone spur, but this sciatica-type feeling is not always related to lower back nerves. People often confuse any shooting-type pain with sciatica. In reality, things like hip arthritis can cause these complaints. Hip arthritis presents in many ways, and some will confuse that pain with sciatica. That groin pain that shoots to your thigh is more indicative of a hip arthritis than a sciatica. For some people, after walking for a certain distance they'll feel weakness to their legs, and sometimes a tingling. They can also think that's a sciatica. In reality, this can be a sign of a blood flow issue to the legs, and not necessarily sciatica. For other people, there's also pinching of the components of the sciatic nerve, but it happens outside the spine. That pinching can occur at the buttock or at the knee or even at the leg. So, if you have radiating symptoms, but it seems to localize more to one of those areas, It may not be a sciatic condition from the back, but rather specifically to the nerve. There's also a final complaint that's a little bit more serious. Some people are complaining of constant abdominal pain that starts developing pain radiating down the legs. On rare occasions, and thank God its rare, a tumor in the stomach can cause entrapment of the nerves outside the spine causing sciatic-type complaints. We also have medical conditions such as diabetes that can cause nerve impairments, and people might confuse that for sciatica. I hope I'm not scaring you with all this information, but if you have sciatica, and if it does not go away... ...besides looking at just the spine, your doctors may need to consider other reasons for that pinched nerve feeling in your legs. I'm Dr. John Shim. I hope I provided a little bit more information on how doctors view your complaints of shooting leg pains. If concerned, please contact your doctor. Thank you.

Last modified: June 19, 2019

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