Isolating SI joint pain vs sciatica is difficult when you don’t know what to look for. The two conditions cause pain in similar areas of the body, but for very different reasons.
Understanding the source of your pain is important to determine what treatment plan you need. It can also help you lessen further discomfort because you can avoid movements that may aggravate your condition.
To help you figure out the source of your discomfort, let’s dive into the similarities and differences between the two conditions.
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the sensation of pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in your lower body. The pain radiates along the path of your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, and it branches at your buttocks, running through your hips and buttocks and down each of your legs. This branching means the pain is often localized to one side of your body or it is more intense on one side of your body.
It’s important to understand that sciatica is a symptom, not a diagnosis. When you have sciatica, it points to an underlying nerve issue. Sciatica is generally caused by compression or irritation of a nerve in your lumbar spine. This can be your spinal nerve(s) or your sciatic nerve.
What Is SI Joint Dysfunction?
Your Sacroiliac (SI) joint connects your pelvis and sacrum. It transfers the weight from your upper body to your pelvis and legs.
SI joint dysfunction refers to pain in your lower back and sometimes your leg areas. The pain in your lower back is usually localized to one side or more intense on one side. You may also experience pain in the pelvis, buttocks, hip, or groin areas. SI joint pain usually stays above the knee, but it can reach the calf or foot in extreme cases.
SI Joint Pain and Sciatica: The Similarities
The SI joint and sciatic nerve occupy the same area in your body. When either of them are sore, it’s difficult to pinpoint the source of your discomfort. So it’s no surprise that so many people get these two conditions mixed up!
Some Pain Sensations
Both conditions can create feelings of sharp or stabbing pain. The pain is incredibly similar in both situations, which is one of the main instigators of misdiagnosis. One way to differentiate the two conditions is to note if the pain is in one specific area all the time, or if the pain is in multiple areas or changing locations. SI joint pain will not move around, but sciatica will!
You may also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness. For sciatica, these are mostly caused by the interruption of signals from the brain. For SI joint dysfunction, these sensations are caused by pain.
Duration of Condition
Both conditions can either last for a few weeks and resolve on their own (an acute condition) or they can become long-term or lifelong conditions (a chronic condition). It’s important to seek a professional’s opinion and treatment as soon as you experience pain that impacts your quality of life.
SI Joint Pain Vs Sciatica: The Differences
The biggest difference between the two conditions is their root cause. Understanding the cause of a condition can make it easier to manage symptoms and alleviate pain.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is caused by a disruption of the sciatic nerve or the spinal nerve. This sends signals of pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness down one of the legs. Since the sciatic nerve extends all the way to the bottom of the foot, sciatica can be felt all through the leg. In rare cases, the compression or irritation of the nerve can affect both legs.
This disruption can be caused by the following:
- Spinal disc issue – when a disc in your spine herniates, ruptures, or bulges
- Foraminal stenosis – when there’s tightness in the opening where your nerves leave your spine
- Central spinal stenosis – constriction of your central spinal canal
- Spondylolisthesis (also called segmental instability) – when a vertebra in your lower back slips forward
- Facet arthropathy – when the cartilage between the facet joints of your spine wears down
In rare cases, sciatica may also be caused by nutritional deficiencies or inherited conditions.
What Causes SI Joint Dysfunction?
SI joint dysfunction has fewer causes than sciatica. It occurs when your SI joint sustains damage. This could be a result of the following:
- Trauma from an accident, a sports injury, a fall, or giving birth
- Spinal surgery
When coming up with a treatment plan for you, your doctor will ask you a few questions about your pain. To give them a full understanding of your condition, make sure to tell them the following:
- When the pain started
- How long the pain lasts
- Where the pain is located
- Where the pain is the worst
- What makes the pain worse
- What helps to ease the pain
They may perform a diagnostic test, like the Fortin test, to determine which condition you’re dealing with. They will perform a physical exam, and they may send you to have imaging tests done, like an MRI, to help with your diagnosis.
Treatment for Sciatica
Many cases of sciatica will resolve on their own with time and rest. To help ease sciatica, your doctor may recommend the following:
- Applying cold or heat to the affected area
- Gentle, targeted stretching
- Over-the-counter pain medication
Long-term treatment plans can include:
- Physical therapy
- Corticosteroid injections
- Chiropractic care for sciatica
Treatment for SI Joint Dysfunction
Your SI joint may heal itself over the course of a week or two. While it’s important to rest, getting too little movement can impede the healing process.
Your doctor may recommend the following:
- Physical therapy
- Body braces for support
- SI joint injections
- Chiropractic care
Quality Care From Coast To Coast Chiropractic
By now, you should understand the differences between SI joint pain vs sciatica.
Whether you’re dealing with sciatica or SI joint dysfunction, chiropractic care can ease your pain and aid your healing. Using massage techniques and advanced spinal adjustments, our expert team has options that can help you return to normal. No one should have to live in pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling. And because of the advances in chiropractic technology, no one has to.
If you’re dealing with lower back pain, or pain in one or both of your legs, our team can help you. Contact us today to set up an appointment and begin a journey of healing.