What Causes Sciatica? Unveiling the Root Causes of Nerve Pain

Have you ever experienced a sudden jolt of pain shooting down from your lower back to your leg? If so, you may be dealing with sciatica, a nerve condition that can bring about excruciating discomfort. From temporary aches to persistent agony, sciatica affects a significant number of individuals. In this article, we’ll uncover the primary causes of sciatica, shedding light on the factors that trigger this nerve pain.

Intervertebral Disc Problems: The Shock Absorber Dilemma

Sciatica often arises due to issues with the intervertebral discs, which act as shock absorbers between the bones in your spine. These discs are composed of tough fibres called the Annulus Fibrosus, encasing a gel-like substance known as the Nucleus Pulposus. However, if the fibres of the annulus become damaged, they can rupture or break, resulting in the displacement of the nucleus.

This process tends to be gradual, requiring multiple fibres to be damaged before a bulge develops.

But when a disc bulge comes into contact with the sciatic nerve as it exits the spine, it can lead to compression, pinching, or irritation of the nerve. As a result, pain, numbness, or weakness may manifest in the leg. These symptoms can occur due to mechanical compression of the nerve or chemical irritation caused by inflammatory mechanisms or a reduction in blood getting to the nerve. Surprisingly, the intensity of pain experienced does not always correspond to the size of the disc bulge.

Piriformis Syndrome: a Real Pain in the Butt

Another possible cause of sciatica is Piriformis Syndrome. Deep within the buttock, the Piriformis muscle crosses over the sciatic nerve as it exits the pelvis. In some cases, this muscle may go into spasm, trapping or irritating the nerve. While Piriformis Syndrome can mimic the symptoms of a prolapsed disc, it tends to be less severe and more manageable. Osteopathic treatment and exercises often provide effective relief for this condition.

Referred Pain: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Referred pain, although not true sciatica, can cause radiating discomfort in the leg from other structures in the spine. The spinal joints, called facets, often play a role in this phenomenon. Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it is believed that nerve impulses jump from the spinal structures to the sciatic nerve as they pass closely within the spinal cord. Referred pain typically does not extend beyond the knee and does not cause accompanying symptoms like pins and needles, numbness, or muscle weakness.


Sciatica is characterised by radiating pain, often accompanied by additional symptoms like numbness or weakness in the leg. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the underlying causes of sciatica is vital for effective management and treatment. Problems with intervertebral discs, such as bulging or herniation, Piriformis Syndrome, and referred pain can all contribute to the development of sciatica.

When seeking treatment for sciatica, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional experienced in dealing with these types of problems. The Sussex Back Pain Clinic, with its expertise in treating sciatica since 1990, is well-equipped to diagnose the precise cause of your symptoms and provide tailored treatment plans. Their comprehensive approach includes osteopathic therapy and exercises designed to restore proper function, alleviate pain, and promote healing.

For cases of sciatica that have not responded to other forms of treatment, the Sussex Back Pain Clinic offers a specialised non-surgical therapy called IDD Therapy Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression. This highly successful treatment focuses on addressing the root cause of sciatica and has helped numerous patients find relief from their symptoms. With the expertise and experience of the clinic’s team, you can explore alternative options that aim to alleviate your pain and restore your mobility without resorting to surgery or epidural injections.

Remember, early intervention, accurate diagnosis, and appropriate treatment are key factors in managing sciatica effectively. By seeking professional help from the Sussex Back Pain Clinic, you can embark on a path to recovery and regain control of your life, free from the limitations imposed by sciatica.


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