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What causes sciatica?

Sciatica can be caused by several different medical conditions including:

  • disc that causes pressure on a nerve root. This is the most common cause of sciatica. About 1% to 5% of all people in the U.S. will have a slipped disc at one point in their lives. Discs are the cushioning pads between each vertebrae of the spine. Pressure from vertebrae can cause the gel-like center of a disc to bulge (herniate) through a weakness in its outer wall. When a herniated disc happens to a vertebrae in your lower back, it can press on the sciatic nerve.
Herniated disk | Cleveland Clinic
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  • Degenerative disc disease is the natural wear down of the discs between vertebrae of the spine. The wearing down of the discs shortens their height and leads to the nerve passageways becoming narrower (spinal stenosis). Spinal stenosis can pinch the sciatic nerve roots as they leave the spine leading to sciatica.
  • Spinal stenosis is the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing reduces the available space for the spinal cord and nerves.
Spinal stenosis | Cleveland Clinic
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  • Spondylolisthesis is a slippage of one vertebra so that it is out of line with the one above it, narrowing the opening through which the nerve exits. The extended spinal bone can pinch the sciatic nerve.
  • Osteoarthritis. Bone spurs (jagged edges of bone) can form in aging spines and compress lower back nerves resulting in sciatica.
  • Trauma injury to the lumbar spine or sciatic nerve.
  • Tumors in the lumbar spinal canal that compress the sciatic nerve.
  • Piriformis syndrome is a condition that develops when the piriformis muscle, a small muscle that lies deep in the buttocks, becomes tight or spasms. This can put pressure on and irritate the sciatic nerve resulting in sciatica. Piriformis syndrome is an uncommon neuromuscular disorder.
  • Cauda equina syndrome is a rare but serious condition that affects the bundle of nerves at the end of the spinal cord called the cauda equina. This syndrome causes pain down the leg, numbness around the anus and loss of bowel and bladder control.

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