What’s the difference between Sciatica and Lower Back Pain?

Sciatica and lower back pain are similar in that they are both classifications of back pain, and they are sometimes confused for one another prior to diagnosis. The confusion is due to an overlap in similar symptoms. However, lower back pain and sciatica are very different.

First and foremost, sciatica is nerve pain. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, and it splits in the lower spine. From there, the two branches go down both legs to the feet. Sciatic nerve pain is usually caused by a herniated disc, bone spur, or other skeletal issue. The pain itself is often described as shooting, searing pain all the way down the nerve. Some patients also describe feelings of numbness, tingling, or burning along the nerve as well. Along with these symptoms, many also experience weakness in the affected leg or foot. Sciatica often comes on suddenly, and it can take three to six months before it resolves itself.

Lower back pain differs from sciatica in that it can be caused by any number of things, from minor accidents, poor sleep, or even moving too suddenly. A sudden sneeze or picking up a toy can cause pain that you weren’t expecting! It can be confused with sciatica because of the area where the pain happens to be focused – the lower back. Lower back pain usually occurs near the “beltline”, or just at the waist. Unlike sciatica, it usually resolves itself in up to or less than six weeks.

What is most important in treating back pain is receiving an accurate diagnosis, and that comes through seeing a doctor. Sciatica is often best treated by gentle physical therapy, along with other prescribed treatments. Ashford Interventional offers treatment options tailored to your specific pain. We’re here to help.