6 Sciatica Causes & Risk Factors – Everything You Need To Know

Sciatica Causes & Risk Factors

Sciatica is the medical term used to describe a problematic pain associated with the sciatic nerve. It usually starts in the lower back and can go down through the buttocks and hips – it will even target your legs. Normally, it affects one side of the body only – one leg only. However, there are cases when the affection targets both parts.

The pain tends to aggravate with time. It can become severe and aggressive, but most cases will not require any sophisticated treatments. Surgery is a last resort and rarely used. Most people will overcome the affection with nothing but self-care treatments and some stretching exercises. However, those with severe inflammation, numbness, or bladder or bowel changes might need surgery.

Sciatica causes are quite diversified. Most of them affect the sciatic nerve, though, which can be pinched or pressured. Herniated discs will also lead to such issues. While quite rare, there are cases when this nerve could experience pressure due to a tumor. All in all, here is everything you need to know about the sciatica causes and their occurrence rate.

Sciatica Causes

1. Lumbar herniated disc

This is probably the most common cause out there. From all the sciatica causes, this one targets nine out of 10 patients. The lumbar herniated disc will basically compress a few different spinal nerve roots. As the nerve is under pressure, it will bring in pains and limit your movement. The more pressure it will face, the more discomfort you have to deal with. Now, the lumbar herniated disc is likely to cause sciatica in a few different ways.

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2. Direct compression

The sciatic nerve can be affected in a few different ways, and the direct compression is one of them. This issue occurs when the disc bulges. At the same time, these discs have soft gel-like materials inside. When there is too much pressure, this material leaks out through slight cracks caused by damage. As it leaks, it puts even more pressure on the nerve, leading to the painful sensations and discomfort associated with sciatica.

3. Chemical inflammation

This is the second way the lumbar herniated disc can cause sciatica. There are more disc materials out there. Some of them are acidic and can cause irritations. They can irritate the surrounding areas. Once these materials leak out – especially the acidic chemical, it will cause inflammation around the sciatic nerve. As a direct consequence, the painful sensations are only one step away, whether they target your buttocks, hips, legs, or everything in the area.

The herniated disc may work in a few different directions. Normally, it will compress the sciatic nerve from one direction only. Only one side of your body will be affected. While rare, there are cases when the disc may also herniate from two different sides. The so-called bilateral sciatica brings in pain and discomfort on both sides. It can also be triggered by two nearby discs that will herniate on either side.

4. Degeneration

Degeneration could be a regular process of aging, but it may also have some causes that rush it. Tissues around the lumbar spine tend to lose their efficiency. They will compress with time – all the walking, sitting, and work you do over years. As they compress, they also put more and more pressure on your sciatic nerve, leading to the painful sensations.

On the other hand, sciatica causes may also involve degeneration in the facet joints. Such issues will also target synovial tissues in joints – inflammation. The vertebral bone could face a similar process, which will lead to unusual bone growths. Such tissues are not tumors and will not be as harmful, but they can still compress more nerve roots and cause sciatica. The same goes for degenerated intervertebral discs.

Suggested article: 3 Exercises To Help You Get Rid Of Lumbar Facet Joint Pain

5. Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is an affection itself. Basically, it refers to a vertebral body slipping away. Normally, the body will slip towards another one. The cause behind it? Most commonly, an injury. It could also be some stress or perhaps a fracture. To help you understand, imagine the L5 vertebra overcoming the S1 vertebra. The disc space will collapse, causing a slight fracture. The slipping will put pressure on the nerve.

This affection is more likely to lead to bilateral sciatica – the type of sciatica that targets both sides of the body and not just one. It is not very common in older people, but mostly in younger adults.

Suggested article: Sciatica and Spondylolisthesis – Symptoms, Types, Treatment


6. Lumbar spinal stenosis

Lumbar spinal stenosis is another condition that may cause sciatica. It refers to the spinal canal. As it could narrow down due to the natural aging process, pressure on the sciatic nerve will inevitably kick in. Lumbar spinal stenosis is not too common in young adults. Instead, it tends to affect elders.

Risk factors for sciatica

Apart from sciatica causes, it pays off becoming familiar with the risk factors as well, which may vary widely. Age is the most common one. From bone spurs to herniated discs, these issues are more common as you age.

Obesity is another issue. You do not necessarily have to be obese to experience sciatica – you might as well be slightly overweight. Extra weight puts more stress on the spine – sooner or later, sciatica will kick in.

Your job is another risk factor. If you have to deal with heavy loads, twist and turn, drive or sit down for long periods of time, you are more likely to end up with sciatica. There are no obvious research studies, but it is just common sense.

Another common risk factor is diabetes.


Bottom line, sciatica causes can develop with time, but they may also arise spontaneously. When the affection kicks in straight away, it is most commonly caused by physical stress, an injury, or a trauma. Falls, accidents or even intensely laborious work will put pressure on your back and increase the risk of developing sciatica. The good news is sciatica is usually treatable at home without too much hassle, and it goes away after a few weeks – obviously, sciatica causes determine the necessity of seeing a doctor.​

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