Do You Truly have Symptoms of Sciatica? Could Your Pain be something Different?

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Learn how to evaluate your symptoms of sciatica before beginning any exercise for sciatica. Many other painful conditions are often mistaken for sciatica and doing the wrong exercises may make your pain worse.






What is Sciatica?

True sciatica is pain that is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve or the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve.

The most common causes of sciatica include a bulging or herniated disc in your lumbar spine, lumbar spinal stenosis, and piriformis syndrome.

The Pain of Sciatica

These can all cause pain in your lower back that radiates down into one or both of your buttocks and thighs. This pain will be in a very specific location along the course of the sciatic nerve and that is true sciatica.


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Problems that are Commonly Mistaken for Sciatica

Other conditions that may cause pain in your low back and a radiating into one or both of your buttocks and thighs:

   •Hip Arthritis

   •Trochanteric Bursitis

   •Sacroiliac Joint Pain

These disorders can also cause pain but they are not likely to be improved by any exercise for sciatica.

How do you know ?

True symptoms of sciatica will cause pain in the middle of your buttock and down the back of your thigh. It will not cause pain in your groin, it will not cause pain along the side of your hip or thigh, and it will not cause pain at your sacroiliac joint.

Your sacroiliac joints are a common cause 
of pain that is mistaken for sciatica.

Image thanks to Bruce Blaus, via Wikimedia Commons

These are different.

Hip Joint Arthritis

Sharp stabbing pain that is felt in your groin is most likely related to arthritis in your hip joint.

Hip Bursitis

When you feel discomfort at the side of your hip and along the side of your thigh you may be experiencing greater trochanteric bursitis.

Sacroiliac Joint Pain

Sciatica can often be a associated with low back pain that is along your lumbar spine, but pain that is down lower across the back of your pelvis is most likely coming from your sacroiliac joints.

Your "sciatica" may not be sciatica

Unfortunately, many people complain of "sciatica" when their pain may be caused by something completely different.

Other different types of conditions can cause pain in your buttock and thigh besides sciatica. Things like hip joint arthritis, trochanteric bursitis, and sacroiliac joint pain can all cause discomfort in the same area as sciatica.

Evaluate Your Symptoms of Sciatica with Tests You can do at Home

Test for Sacroiliac Joint Pain

Maybe You don't have Sciatica

To try and determine if your discomfort is caused by sciatica or something different there are some simple tests that you can do at home.

Pain that is coming from your sacroiliac joints will be located across the back of your pelvis and not down in the muscles (where the sciatic nerve lives) in the middle of your buttock.


While you are lying supine or in a sitting position place your right ankle up on top of your left knee. 

Now have a friend press down on your right knee. Now test the opposite side. 

If twisting your hip in this manner reproduces the pain at the back of your pelvis it seems that your pain is coming from your sacroiliac joint and is not sciatica.

FABER test is used to diagnose sacroiliac joint pain.

Image thanks to Dr. Donald Corenman, via Wikimedia 

Simple Home Test for Hip Arthritis

Hip Range of Motion

Arthritis or other degenerative changes of your hip will most commonly cause pain deep in your groin. You can check this by testing your hip range of motion.

While you are in a sitting position and keeping your knee bent at 90°have a friend put your foot to the inside (like you are putting it on your knee) and to the outside.

This will rotate your hip joint inward and outward and if it produces sharp stabbing pain in your groin you most likely have arthritis in your hip and exercises for symptoms of sciatica are not likely to be very helpful.

Test for Trochanteric Bursitis

The prominent bone that sticks out on the side of your hip is called your greater trochanter. When the bursa that lies over the top of this prominent bone becomes inflamed and painful that is trochanteric bursitis.

It may be painful to lay on that side in bed at night.

If your pain is reproduced when you push your pelvis out to that side, and if there is tenderness over that bony prominence that sticks out you probably have trochanteric bursitis and not sciatica.


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Test for Symptoms of Sciatica

Before you start any exercise for sciatica you need to make sure that sciatica is what is causing your pain.

Here is an easy test that you can do at home to help determine if the pains you are experiencing really are symptoms of sciatica.

Straight Leg Raising

While lying on your back, have a friend raise your leg up to a vertical position while keeping your knee straight.

If this produces pain in the middle of your buttock and along the back of your thigh you most likely are experiencing sciatica.

This maneuver will stretch the sciatic nerve and cause pain if the sciatic nerve is inflamed.

Straight leg raising stretches
the sciatic nerve. 
It can be
used to diagnose sciatica.

Image thanks to Davidjr74, via Wikimedia Commons


If there is tenderness along the course of the sciatic nerve in the middle of your buttock and along the back of your thigh it is most likely caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve and you are having true symptoms of sciatica.

If you find yourself leaning to one side or the other while sitting, you may have sciatica.

Leaning to one side when sitting takes some of the weight off of your buttock which can be tender when the sciatic nerve is angry.

What You Should Do

If these simple tests that we have been discussing seem to show that you have sciatica, and your symptoms of sciatica are not too severe, starting some simple exercises for sciatica would make sense.

Simple Exercises to Relieve Sciatica

Hamstring Stretches

Lumbar Hyperextension Exercises

Piriformis Stretches


   If your pain is more severe
   and prevents normal activities, 

   Or if you are having muscle weakness,

   Or problems controlling your bowels or bladder, 

you need to make an appointment with your doctor. 

He will probably review your history, and repeat some of these tests as part of a complete physical exam to determine what is causing your pain.

With that information, he can order the best studies to better evaluate your symptoms, and get you started on an appropriate treatment plan so that you can get back to living your life pain free.



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