How is sciatica pain different than back pain?

by AJ

I have pain on the right side of my back and it shoots down toward my buttock. When I try to bend it hurts really bad. I can't do my housework or take care of my kids. Do you think I have sciatica? Or is it just regular back pain?


Hi AJ,
Well, it is difficult to tell from your brief description if you are having sciatica pain. You can also have back pain that radiates down toward your buttock. It may be from the muscles in your back or from arthritis in the facet joints of your low back.

Another common cause of low back pain in that area is the sacroiliac joints. Pain from these joints in your pelvis may be on one side or on both sides of your very low back. Pain from the sacroiliac joint may radiate into your buttock or over to your lateral hip.

There is a way to test your sacroiliac joints. You said your pain is on the right side of your back, so sit down and put your right ankle on top of your left knee. Now pushing down on your right knee will stretch your right sacroiliac joint. If this reproduces your pain, it is evidence that your pain is coming from the sacroiliac joint.

Pain that is coming from the facet joints in your lumbar spine will get worse with bending backwards which puts more pressure on the little joints on the back of your spine. If arching your back reproduces your pain that is evidence that your pain is coming from the facet joints.

Sciatica pain, or pain from the sciatic nerve, will radiate down through your buttock. When the sciatica pain becomes more severe it will radiate into the back of your thigh and into the lower leg.

Sciatica pain is often described as a severe ache, like a toothache, in your buttock and thigh. It may get worse with standing and walking, and get better with sitting or lying in a fetal position.

To test for sciatica you need to sit down, and then have someone straightening your right leg by raising your right foot while you are sitting up straight. This will stretch the sciatic nerve where it runs through your buttock and the back of your thigh. If this reproduces the pain in the back of your thigh or in your buttock it is evidence that your pain is sciatica.

Hopefully my description will help you determine what is causing your pain. Now what to do? That is the problem.

You don't say how long this has been going on. If it has only been a few days, you need to take it easy and limit your activity to see if this will get better on its own. You could try doing some gentle stretches and take an over the counter anti-inflammatory drug.

However, if you have been incapacitated and unable to perform normal activities for a few weeks, you need to make an appointment with your doctor. He can examine you and determine the most likely cause of your pain.

He may order in x-rays or an MRI of your lumbar spine for a better in evaluation of exactly what is causing your pain. Once he has discovered exactly what is causing your pain he can determine an appropriate treatment plan.

You can read more about sciatica pain and sciatica treatments at Sciatica Symptoms and Treatments.

You can read more about your back pain at Back Pain on Your Lower Right Side.

Well AJ that is all I have to offer for right now. Try those tests that I described to see if that helps sort out exactly what is causing your pain. Put a note back in the comments section to let us know what you find out and how you're doing.

Good luck,

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