Difference Between Sciatica and Herniated Disc

sciatica vs. herniated disc

With the internet, many people often make an individual diagnosis about different health conditions even whereby, the same has not been confirmed by a clinician. One of the most commonly mixed-up health conditions is sciatica and a herniated disc. In this article, we highlight these two subtly different conditions; sciatica vs. herniated disc.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is the pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve. Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve impinges after a spinal condition such as an injury or trauma, a tight muscle that compresses the nerve, or a herniated disc.

Symptoms of sciatica include;

  • Sharp pain along the nerve’s periphery.
  • Walking difficulty.
  • Numbness and weakness.
  • A tingling sensation on the thigh, leg, or foot.

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What is a herniated Disc?

A herniated disc is the tearing or bulging of a spinal disc. The spinal discs are soft and offer cushioning for each vertebra for shock absorption. When a disc tears or bulges, the gel-like fluid within it is pressed outside the disc’s casing. This puts pressure on the nerves and results into pain.

Symptoms include;

  • Pain when sitting as this puts excessive pressure on the lower spinal discs. Once you have a herniated disc, the pressure pronounces the bulge and this aggravates lower back pain while sitting.
  • Pain that radiates into one of the legs.
  • Aggravated pain with activities such as; bending down or forward, heavy lifting, heavy pushing or pulling, coughing, and sneezing.

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herniated spinal disc

Difference between sciatica and herniated disc

Sciatica, for the most part, is curable where proper treatment is administered and patients can go back to normalcy within a period of time. Herniated discs are often more permanent conditions that can affect one’s life and require greater care. If it goes undiagnosed, a herniated disc can worsen and become debilitating.

These two conditions can be mistaken at the outset and an accurate diagnosis can sometimes require tools like an MRI to see the implicated systems.

It is important to note that a herniated disc can cause sciatica and not the converse. With a herniated disc, pain that radiates into one of the legs may be experienced and this is what is referred to as sciatica. The discs of the lower back may bulge posteriorly (the back region) and/or laterally (the side region), in close proximity to the nerve roots of the spine.

Herniated discs will affect these nerve roots through chemical irritation or direct compression. In direct compression, the disc bulges or leaks its inner contents directly on the nerve roots as it comes out of the spinal canal, while in chemical irritation, the disc leaks acidic and chemically irritating material to cause inflammation. This alters the nerve root function to bring about the mentioned symptoms of sciatica.

Final Thoughts

Sciatica and a herniated disc can be difficult to differentiate initially and will mostly be differentiated after a few doctor visits. It is therefore very essential that you get an accurate diagnosis.  We hope that this article has offered you an understandable guide regarding sciatica vs. herniated disc.

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