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How do i Know if My Pain Is Sciatica or Another Issue in Los Angeles, CA

Sciatica occurs because the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower spine down into the legs, becomes irritated or compressed. Symptoms can vary from dull sensations to searing pain that extends to the buttocks, hips, thighs, and even all the way down to the toes. Some people also have “electric-like” sensations or numbness in one leg. But not all symptoms of this nature are linked directly to the sciatic nerve. How you can tell if your discomfort is sciatica or something else?

Do You Have a Common Source of Sciatica?

You’re more likely to have symptoms related to irritation of your sciatic nerve if you have one of the common sources of this type of nerve compression. The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated or damaged disc located in the lower back area (lumbar herniated disc). Sciatica may also stem from:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
  • Facet joint osteoarthritis
  • Age-related disc wear affecting the spinal discs in the lower back (lumbar degenerative disc disease)
  • Slippage of one vertebra over a nearby one (spondylolisthesis)

Could You Have a Condition that Mimics Sciatica?

The term “sciatica” is often misused because any type of lumbar back pain that extends to lower parts of the body is commonly thought to be sciatica. While this could be the case, you might have a condition that mimics sciatica by producing similar symptoms. Alternative sources of sciatica-like pain may include:

  • Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction – This condition, which can produce sciatica-like radiating pain that goes down the leg, is caused by too much or too little movement of joints in the pelvic area. If discomfort is severe, an SI joint fusion may be recommended.
  • Spinal joint issues – Pain stemming from a problem with the spinal (facet) joints sometimes extends into one leg—just like what sciatica can do. A similar issue is spinal joint wear caused by arthritis of the spine.
  • Piriformis syndrome – If you have this sciatica-like condition, your sciatic nerve is being irritated by a muscle deep within your buttock called the piriformis muscle. While the symptoms can be identical to “true” sciatica, the condition is different because the source of nerve irritation isn’t in your lower back.

Have You Received an Accurate Diagnosis?

In rare instances, sciatica may be related to a spinal tumor, an infection in the spine, or a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome that affects a bundle of nerves at the base of the backbone. For this reason, it’s best to avoid attempts at self-diagnosis and get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon. Another reason to get an accurate diagnosis is so the actual source of your sciatica symptoms can be treated. Luckily, a specialist can tell if you have sciatica or something else by performing an assortment of assessments. Some of these may involve:

  • Having you make certain movements
  • Doing nerve conduction studies to positively identify the affected nerve
  • Performing X-rays and other image tests
  • Injecting a special type of dye into the affected area to determine if there’s another possible source of your discomfort


As for treatment options, if you have a serious issue with a damaged disc, an abnormally narrow spinal canal, or a slipped spinal bone, your spine specialist may recommend a surgical procedure such as lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica patients are often able to manage sciatica and the common similar conditions mentioned above with medication, epidural steroid injections, therapeutic exercises, or progressive exercise programs meant to prevent symptoms from coming back or worsening.

If you think you may have any of these conditions that can cause sciatica, don’t hesitate to call on a spine specialist for diagnosis and treatment. The pioneering physicians at The Spine Institute have years of experience treating every cause of neck and back pain, so give us a call at 310-828-7757 today to schedule a consultation.