When you’re experiencing pain in your lower back, hips, and upper legs, you may be uncertain of why this pain occurs. There are many reasons for lower back, hip, and leg pain, but most commonly, they tend to occur from injuries or prolonged sitting.
Therefore, damage and pain in these areas are most often developed by people who sit at a desk all day (either in an office or at home). The perfect office chair is expensive, and most people tend to buy something cheaper for their home office, while larger companies also tend to budget for more affordable options.
Unfortunately, these cheaper options don’t offer the correct support and comfort that the average person requires when sitting for eight or more hours every day.
If you’re experiencing pain in your lower back, hips, and upper legs, you may be concerned about sciatica. Sciatica may also present as groin pain or muscle weakness. How can you tell whether you’re experiencing pain as a side effect of sciatica or just regular hip pain?
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to pain that occurs along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down each leg. Commonly, sciatic only affects one side of the body. Most pain often occurs through the hip bones.
The main symptom of sciatica is pain that radiates throughout your lower back and down into the back of your legs. Some people may experience duller, more burning pain, while other people may experience pain that feels almost electric.
Coughing and sneezing may make your symptoms worse.
What Does Sciatica Feel Like?
To be able to differentiate sciatica pain from regular hip pain, we need to delve into what sciatica actually feels like.
Patients with sciatica often experience the pain that comes with sciatica in different ways. Some describe it as a shooting pain that moves from the lower back through the legs or the knee, while some describe it as constant burning pain or the feeling of electricity moving through their nerves or a pins and needles sensation.
Along with pain, patients also experience numbness. Numbness is one of the key factors that lean toward your pain being sciatic and not general. Tingling, weakness, and numbness in the back of the leg are common with sciatica.
Another key factor that points toward sciatica is when symptoms are only present in one leg. If you’re experiencing pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates down from your lower back, but it only occurs in one leg, you’re likely experiencing problems with your sciatic nerve.
Many patients report that their symptoms often feel worse when sitting down instead of standing up or lying down.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is often a symptom of something more serious, such as:
- A herniated disk
- Spinal stenosis
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
Other causes include:
- Age: Your spine may change as you age, causing bone spurs and herniated discs, which are the most common causes of sciatica.
- Occupation: If your work requires you to twist, carry heavy loads, sit for an extended period, or drive a motor vehicle for a long period, you may be more at risk for sciatica.
- Diabetes: The way your body uses blood sugar can often cause damage to your nerves, which may result in sciatica.
Can Sciatica be Serious?
In some cases, sciatica may be cause for concern and medical emergency. For example, suppose you’re experiencing loss of feeling in the leg in which you’ve been experiencing pain, weakness in the affected leg, or loss of bladder or bowel function. In that case, you should seek immediate medical attention.
There are a few medical emergencies that can occur that may give off sciatica-like symptoms, including:
- Spinal cord compression or infection
- Blood vessel issues
- Kidney damage and pain
- Permanent nerve damage
Because there are potential issues that can arise because of sciatica or similar to sciatica, you should always seek medical attention when you have pain that lasts longer than a week.
Hip Pain and What Might Be Causing It
Hip pain is often much less serious than sciatica, as it’s not caused by nerve damage. Hip pain refers to any pain or irritation you may be feeling in the outside of your hips, upper thighs, your hip joint, or buttocks. This pain is often caused by damage to the muscles, ligaments, or tendons. It is a pain that radiates from the soft tissue instead of from the nerve.
Main Causes of Hip Pain
There are so many different potential causes of hip pain, including injuries, arthritis, inflammation, pinched nerves (like sciatica), and even cancer.
When serious, hip pain is often a symptom of something else, like sciatica, arthritis, or bone cancer. Minor hip pain is usually caused by injury, such as:
- Labral tears
You may also just be experiencing discomfort because of how you’re sitting every day, often causing low back pain in addition to hip and sciatic nerve pain. If you work in an office, or you work from home, you likely have to sit in an office chair for at least eight hours every day.
This can cause a lot of discomfort to the lower back, hips, and buttocks. While you won’t have an injury such as a sprain or a fracture, you can still experience pain.
When You Should See a Doctor About Hip Pain
Most hip pain can be treated at home with over-the-counter pain medications and temperature control (such as applying heat and ice). However, when the pain begins to be too much for you to bear, and at-home treatment just isn’t cutting it, you may need to see a doctor.
You should seek immediate medical attention if:
- Your joint appears deformed
- You’re unable to move your leg or hip
- You can’t put weight on your leg
- Intense pain that won’t subside
- Signs of infection, including fever, chills, or redness
Your doctor may do some x-rays, MRI or CT scans to help diagnose you. They may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs like Ibuprofen or Naproxen) or muscle relaxants. If necessary, your doctor might propose epidural steroid injections to help relieve pain, which is especially useful against a herniated disc.
Before moving to surgery, your doctor may suggest a massage, acupuncture, or physical therapy. These three treatment options can help support good posture, which is a key defense against sciatica. Physical therapy can also help strengthen and limber up the lumbar spine.
The Key Differences Between Sciatica and Hip Pain
If you’re unsure of whether you’re experiencing pain associated with sciatica or pain from a hip injury or hip discomfort, the best way to tell for sure is to see a doctor. They’ll be able to diagnose your pain and help you with treatment options.
However, you’ll often be able to tell on your own what kind of pain you’re experiencing. Sciatica pain radiates more, causing burning or electric sensations. You may also lose feeling in your leg, and it often only affects one side of the body.
Pain with regular hip pain is much different and can be treated with ice, pain relievers, and rest. If you find that your general hip pain isn’t going away, then it may be time to be concerned about sciatica or other issues.
Finding Relief for Sciatica and Hip Pain
If you’re experiencing sciatica or hip pain, you should speak with a doctor to receive treatment or try at-home options if the pain isn’t too bad. One of the best ways to treat generalized pain in the hips and lower back is to opt for a more comfortable office chair.
However, ergonomic office chairs can be expensive. The more affordable solution is to purchase a seat cushion or bolster pillow to help with the pain that you’re experiencing. Seat cushions can help relieve any pain or pressure you may be feeling in your hips, tailbone, and lower back.
Seat cushions can help with general hip pain as well as with sciatica and other injuries and damage that may not be caused by an uncomfortable office chair. Using a seat cushion will make your chair more comfortable and supportive, offering relief to whatever type of pain you’re experiencing.
Hip pain When to see a doctor | Mayo Clinic
What You Need to Know About Sciatica | Spine-Health
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