Depending on the circumstances, sciatica can be a legitimate pain in the buttocks. But is sciatica causing my buttock pain? Back and leg pain can be caused by several different issues. It could be caused by a late-night sprain or strain to a tweaked back, herniated disc, or something more serious. While most cases of buttock pain resolve themselves with little treatment, you should still take your pain seriously. Understanding the signs and symptoms of sciatica and other causes of back and leg pain can help you distinguish between a harmless pinch and a more serious issue.
Is Sciatica Causing My Buttock Pain? Firt, What is Sciatica?
Sciatica, or sciatic pain, is a syndrome or collection of symptoms caused by a pinched sciatic nerve. Sciatica isn’t a medical condition you can be diagnosed with but is a descriptor for a common symptom caused by multiple different conditions, including bone spurs, herniated discs, and injured or inflamed muscles near the offending nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the largest contiguous nerve in the human body, originating from its roots near the foramen (openings) of the lower vertebrae, and running deep into the inner leg, where it branches off into smaller nerves all the way down to the toes.
Sciatica and Sitting for Long Periods
Sciatica is a common cause of back and leg pain because the nerve roots that form the sciatic nerve originate on one of the most injury-prone sections of the spine. Furthermore, sciatic pain is heavily exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle and long periods of sitting. The general characteristics of sciatica include one-sided pain or numbness along the lower back, buttocks, back of the thigh, and/or back of the calf.
While the sciatic nerve runs through the thigh and branches out into smaller nerves all the way down to the heel, it is mostly associated with leg adduction (pushing your thighs together), knee flexion (bending the knee), and ankle extension (pointing your toes upwards).
Direct damage or impingement of the sciatic nerve will cause numbness and loss of strength in these movements, as well as a sharp or burning pain in the related muscles of the thighs and calves.
However, buttock pain is also commonly associated with sciatic pain because one of the more common causes of sciatic symptoms is an inflamed or injured piriformis muscle, one of the deeper muscles in the buttocks.
The sciatic nerve runs underneath this muscle through the hips, which is why an inflamed or damaged piriformis muscle can also lead to other symptoms of sciatic pain. So even if you aren’t feeling as much pain in your hamstring or calf compared to your buttock, your condition may still involve the sciatic nerve.
Identifying the Cause of the Pain
Sciatica occurs whenever the sciatic nerve is impinged or damaged, and usually through:
- A swollen or herniated disc between the vertebrae closest to your sciatic nerve roots
- A narrowing of the foramen or openings on your spine
- A narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)
- Peripheral neuropathy (a common symptom of chronic alcohol use, autoimmune conditions, inflammatory diseases, and vitamin deficiencies)
- Injured or strained muscles (especially the piriformis)
- Abnormal tissue growth
- Bone spurs
- An infection in the region
However, general buttock pain can also be caused by:
- An injured or inflamed muscle
- Overuse of the muscles in the area
- Direct impact or trauma to the region
- Hip bursitis (an inflamed bursa)
- Dermatological issues (cysts or abscesses)
- Sacroiliac joint pain
- And more.
If you’ve been experiencing serious buttock pain for some time, a doctor may perform physical tests, blood tests, and imaging tests to eliminate certain possible causes, including infections, skin conditions, an injured muscle, or an offending joint.
Buttock pain may be caused or related to sciatica if other symptoms are also present, particularly pain or weakness in the lower back, hamstring, adductor, or calf, numbness, or telltale signs of a piriformis syndrome.
Is Sciatica Causing My Buttock Pain? When Is It Not Sciatica?
Your buttock pain may not be related to sciatica if the condition has been ruled out by lack of other symptoms:
- The pain is equal in both buttocks
- If another condition explains all your symptoms
- or if it seems to have no effect on your strength or mobility.
It’s very important not to rule out anything until you see a medical professional. Buttock pain can be caused by joint or bone issues, nerve conditions, and muscle damage alike.
Symptoms to Remember
Some symptoms related to your buttock pain are far more dangerous than others. You need to see a medical professional immediately if you:
- Cannot control your bladder or bowels.
- Are experiencing severe loss of mobility or strength.
- Fever over 104°F (40°C).
- Experiencing shooting pains for a while.
- Have been experiencing intensifying pain.
- A sore or open wound that won’t heal.
While most cases of buttock pain may be related to a simple injury or impingement that will go away on its own, this isn’t always the case. It’s always better to be safe, rather than sorry.
How is Buttock Pain Treated?
Depending on what’s causing the pain, and how intense it is, you may be given different treatment options. For most cases, conservative treatment with an ice pack or cooling gel, over-the-counter pain medication, and rehabilitative physical therapy may help certain causes. Others need more intense forms of pain management, as well as targeted (and sometimes surgical) treatments. From auto-immune disorders to chronic pain conditions, neuropathy, and repeatedly herniating discs.
Be sure to consult your medical professional for specific advice on both long-term pain management and pain reduction, as well as preventative care to help reduce the likelihood of returning buttock pain in the future. Sometimes, the simplest things can have the largest impact – including lifestyle changes, such as better diet and exercise. Other times, the key may be in identifying and treating an underlying condition that has exacerbated your symptoms, such as a type of arthritis or lupus. Only a personalized, targeted approach works best. In this case, contact us today, we can help!