Back Pain vs. Sciatica: What’s the Difference?

Back pain is the most commonly experienced type of pain. It usually develops from a muscle strain or injury, but sometimes your discomfort may not be just general back pain, it could be sciatica.

Sciatica, while it still falls under the definition of “back pain” is a very specific type. It is also incredibly common. Sciatica is typically felt in the lower back, legs, or buttocks, and it develops from issues surrounding the nerves. Whether you’re experiencing general back pain or sciatica pain, physiotherapy can help relieve your symptoms and restore you to optimum levels of physical function.

In many cases, physiotherapy treatments can even eliminate the need for harmful pain-management drugs, such as opioids, or an invasive surgical procedure.

Why do back pain and sciatica occur?

The most common cause of back pain is from sustaining an injury. This can happen in one of two ways – from an instant, sudden trauma (such as a car accident) or from a repetitive-use injury that develops gradually over time (such as bending down multiple times throughout the week to pick up heavy boxes). Back pain can also result from underlying conditions, such as herniated discs, which can also lead to sciatica. Degenerative disc disease is another common culprit for back pain, which is typically caused by obesity or poor posture. Those who suffer from degenerative disc disease usually report feeling chronic dull aches in their lower back.

The medical term for sciatica is “lumbar radiculopathy,” and unlike general back pain, it is a bit harder to understand. Sciatica typically affects people aged 30-50, and there are several different ways in which it can develop. Certain conditions can lead to sciatica, such as bone spurs, arthritis, or any injury that affects the sciatic nerve. Injuries can also lead to sciatica, such as herniated discs, harsh falls, sports-related collisions, or anything that occurs gradually over time through overuse, repetition, or general “wear and tear.”

Knowing the difference:

Back pain

“Back pain” is an all-encompassing term used to describe a vast number of conditions that cause pain in the upper or lower back. Sports-related injuries, poor posture, and car accidents are just a few of the many ways that someone can develop back pain.

Back pain can be described as either acute or chronic. Acute pain means that it lasts for a short time and is usually severe. Chronic pain means that it lasts generally three months or longer and it can either cause dull or severe persistent pain. The pain you experience is typically either rooted in your back muscles or the bones in your spine.

No matter what the case may be, physiotherapy can formulate a treatment plan based on your specific back pain, its location, and your medical history.


Those who have experienced sciatica typically report it as being very uncomfortable. Fortunately, it is also fairly easy to diagnose.

Sciatica pain is typically reported as being very uncomfortable. People with sciatica suffer from pain along their sciatic nerve, which is the biggest nerve in the human body. The sciatic nerve begins at the lower back, splitting at the base of the spine to extend down the buttocks, both legs, and ends at the bottom of each foot.

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes “pinched” or otherwise damaged in some way, thus resulting in a “stinging,” “burning,” or “shooting” sensation in the lower back, buttocks, legs, or feet.

Physiothaerapy can address a lot of the causes of this compression on the sciatic nerve, thus helping to alleviate the pain