Most people don’t associate knee pain with sciatica. But if common sources of knee-related pain are eliminated, something going on in the lower back area may be affecting the knee. One possibility is irritation of the sciatic nerve, which originates in the lower spine and affects some of the muscles that control the knees. Read on to learn how sciatica could lead to or contribute to discomfort felt in the knee.
With sciatic nerve irritation that’s also causing knee pain, you might experience symptoms associated with both knee-related discomfort and sciatica at the same time. This combination of symptoms may include:
• Sharp pains, dull aches, and warm sensations in or around the knees
• Difficulty placing weight on the affected knee
• A knee that regularly gives out or buckles
• Weakness when attempting to straighten or extend your leg at the knee
You may also experience classic sciatica symptoms in the thighs, buttocks, calves, or feet. Since sciatic nerve pain typically affects only one leg at a time, you might notice discomfort limited to one knee at a time.
It’s not unusual for sciatica to be related to an underlying condition affecting the spine in some way. Such conditions sometimes cause issues with spinal discs, joints, nerves, and soft tissues in a way that irritates the sciatic nerve. Two of these conditions are L4 radiculopathy and tight hamstrings.
• L4 radiculopathy – Nerve irritation at this level, which could be due to a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, may cause nerve-based pain that extends beyond the spine (radiculopathy) to your knee. Discomfort could continue to your thigh and/or calf.
• Tense/tight hamstrings – The resulting stress from tight hamstrings may alter your spine’s normal curvature enough to affect spinal joints. The resulting stiffness and discomfort may extend to your knee and leg from your lower back.
Knee pain that appears to be related to sciatica may end up not being related to the sciatic nerve at all. Two possible sources of nerve and/or joint injuries that can mimic sciatica are L3 radiculopathy and patellofemoral stress syndrome.
• L3 radiculopathy – Often caused by a herniated disc in the lower back or lumbar spinal narrowing (stenosis), L3 nerve root compression starts in the mid-back area and sometimes contributes to knee weakness and/or pain.
• Patellofemoral stress syndrome – Also called “runner’s knee,” this condition often produces a burning sensation or sharp pain in the knee area and sometimes causes weakness that could be mistaken for sciatica. It’s caused by friction between the kneecap and femur (thigh bone).
Should sciatica be the cause of your knee pain, treatment will likely involve addressing the underlying source of your sciatic nerve irritation. Treatments recommended may include:
• Therapeutic exercises
• Pain-relieving meds
• Guided physical therapy
• Epidural steroid injections
If self-care isn’t easing your knee pain, talk to your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. This process may involve a referral to a Santa Monica spine surgeon if your symptoms suggest sciatica may be the true source of your knee pain. You can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis by being as descriptive as possible about your symptoms.
Get in touch with The Spine Institute today if you think you might have sciatica or another spine-related condition. We specialize in a wide array of fusion and non-fusion procedures, from artificial disc replacement to extreme lateral interbody fusion. Santa Monica patients place their trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.