The Difference Between Back Pain and Sciatica

Have you been struggling with persistent back pain and been told it’s because you have sciatica? Does your pain travel down your leg?
It can be challenging to understand when it seems like even the medical community disagrees with what to call your condition. Fortunately, at Excel Physical Therapy, we can clear it up for you and set you on the right path for relief!

As many as 80 percent of adults in the United States struggle with back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain can start for a variety of reasons. Being in a car accident, bending to pick something off the ground after a long car ride, and for some, just waking up in the morning seems to be the cause.

Unfortunately, up to 90% of low back pain diagnoses are non-specific. This means that not only do people suffer from back pain, but the exact cause may be difficult to identify. Confusion about the source of pain is complicated enough, but some of the confusion is in the diagnosis terminology.

To clarify what you need to do to alleviate your pain, your physical therapist can categorize your pain, so you understand what is happening and, more importantly, what to do about it!

Understanding the difference between back pain and sciatica

Being educated about your back pain can help you make the right choices to overcome it as quickly as possible. One of the biggest problems with back pain is that it persists. One day it is here; the next day, it is gone. Not understanding why it comes or how to make it go away will lead many people to deal with back pain for years on end without seeking help.

Back pain is pain that is felt in the lower back and lower back, and buttocks. Typically, back pain develops as a result of strain or sprain, prolonged postures, or sometimes for no apparent reason. The different mechanisms do not change the essential characteristic defining lower back pain; it is felt in the lower back and/or lower back and buttocks.

Often people are told they have sciatica when they experience pain in the buttock, but sciatica is a different classification and has its characteristics. Sciatica is often a debilitating condition that is a result of compression or inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The condition most commonly is associated with pain radiating down the leg. It can be so severe that people struggle to do everyday activities.

Sciatica pain develops in the nerves that exit the spinal canal and travel into the legs, and so while the pain itself technically starts in the back, the experience of the pain is felt in the leg(s). What’s more, sciatica pain doesn’t always develop like pain in the traditional sense. Sciatica can be tingling, numbness, and weakness in the leg(s).

How physical therapy can help you find relief

If you are experiencing back pain or sciatica and haven’t talked to a physical therapist about your concerns, then now is the time to take action. Working with a physical therapist can help you understand what you are dealing with and, most importantly, how to resolve it once and for all!

Whether you come to physical therapy with lower back pain or sciatica, your physical therapist will perform a thorough physical examination and provide you with solutions that work based on the finding.


Understanding what you are experiencing and how to manage it can help you be proactive and find a solution. Understanding what is going on, and more importantly, what you can do about it, is one of the most effective solutions. It may seem insignificant, but it turns out to be one of the most important steps toward a solution.

Manual Therapy

Physical therapists often use manual therapy for their patients with sciatica. Manual therapies include a variety of techniques that move one or more joints within normal ranges of motion to improve spinal joint motion or function. It can also include soft tissue techniques that help to alleviate pain and allow for more mobility and improved function.

Exercise Therapy

Supervised exercises are vital to a successful outcome. A physical therapist will tailor your exercises, monitor you, and progress you based on your individual needs. Supervised exercise therapy includes directional exercises, proper postural exercises, nerve mobilization, or strength exercises.

Working with a physical therapist is, hands down, the best thing you can do when you are looking to overcome back pain or sciatica. A physical therapist can identify the cause of the back pain/sciatica and present you with helpful strategies to reduce your pain, strengthen your back and improve your function.

Call our clinic today!

If you’re experiencing back pain or sciatica, don’t wait. Call Excel Physical Therapy today and schedule your first appointment to have your condition assessed and get the guidance you need to get back to life!



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