Sciatica and Low Back Pain: Are They the Same Thing?

Do you often wake up with excruciating back pain? Do you feel pain down your leg or in your low back? The odds are that you are dealing with sciatica or low back pain.

Whether it’s from a strenuous workout session, a sedentary lifestyle, manual labor, or lifting a heavy object, back pain can decrease your quality of life. Continuous back pain impacts movement, balance, and sleeping patterns. The problem trickles to other body parts until the slightest movement causes you to wince and groan in pain.

You should know the difference between sciatica and low back pain to deal with the issue correctly.

What Is Low Back Pain?

Low back pain feels like a sudden shooting sensation or constant ache in your back muscles. Typically, the low back pain increases when you bend or twist your body, or lift objects from various heights. Severe back pain might make it impossible for you to sit, stand, or walk properly.

Nerve injuries, strained muscles, arthritis, and fractured bones often lead to low back pain. It might start from the lower spine and then travel upwards.  Sometimes back pain form the lumbar region can also radiate into the buttocks, out to the side of the hip, or down the outside and back of the leg.

Most people can feel back pain after sitting for prolonged periods of time, lifting heavy objects, or sports injuries. For these reasons, low back pain treatments vary depending on the cause and intensity.

Are Sciatica and Back Pain the Same Thing?

Sciatica is a common form of lower back pain that originates from the lumbar spine. The major difference between sciatica and low back pain is its route.  

The sciatic nerve starts from the low back and extends through the buttocks to the hips and down the back of the leg. That is why sciatica pain often travels down the legs. Also, sciatica pain usually only occurs in one leg.

Sciatic Nerve route

Sciatica happens when your sciatic nerve gets compressed or suffers from undue strain due to:

As a result, you may feel a tingling sensation, burning, inflammation, numbness, and excruciating pain in the affected area.  

When Should You Start Sciatica Physical Therapy Treatment? 

We recommend seeking sciatica physical therapy treatment if it starts affecting your daily everyday activities and the pain is not relieved by rest, change of position, or even medications. If the problem persists for 2-6 weeks, it is a cause for concern. That said, sometimes early interventions can prevent irreversible spinal problems.  It is best to schedule an appointment if the back pain progresses in intensity, duration, or frequency.

During the initial evaluation, we will diagnose whether it is lower back pain or sciatic nerve pain. We do this by asking about pain quality, intensity, and trigger points. We also look at your medical history and lifestyle before developing a treatment plan.

The good news is that many forms of low back pain are curable. Our personalized treatment plans increase the chances of a speedy recovery. 

The Bottom Line

In the end, understanding the difference between sciatica and low back pain can prevent misdiagnosis. It also teaches you how to position yourself for prevention. If the situation does not change, consult a specialist immediately.

Otherwise, you risk suffering from spinal injuries and immobility.

Does your back hurt? Book an appointment with the one of our physical therapists in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Contact Specialized Physical Therapy to book an appointment or call us @ 201-773-8851.