Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain? + 3 Tips To Alleviate Pain From Sciatica

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Can sciatica cause knee pain? 

Sciatica can induce severe discomfort in your lower back, glutes, down the leg, and in the knee. The pain can get so severe that it can leave you unable to run, walk or sit.

Running involves repetitive movements and impact on the lower back and legs, which can exacerbate the compression of the sciatic nerve and increase the pain.

Pain in the knee may point to injuries such as Runner’s Knee, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, or Patellar Tendonitis, but in some cases, it’s a referred pain from the compressed sciatic nerve.

So, can sciatica cause knee pain?  This article will look to determine the underlying cause of the knee pain, analyzing appropriate treatment options to help alleviate the discomfort and address the root issue.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What Is Sciatica?
  • Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain?
  • What Helps Knee Pain From Sciatica?
  • Final Thoughts: Can Sciatica Cause Knee Pain?

Let’s dive in!

A person holding their knee.

What is sciatica?

Alright, let’s talk about what happens when your body’s largest nerve, the sciatic nerve, becomes compressed.

The sciatic nerve originates from nerve roots L4 through S2 and follows a course through the pelvis, thigh, and knee, terminating at the tibial and common fibular nerves. Pathology anywhere along this course can cause sciatica symptoms.

Sciatica is specific to pain resulting from sciatic nerve or sciatic nerve root issues.

Sciatica knee pain is a common symptom of sciatica, but sciatic pain can occur at any point along the nerve path and may radiate outward along the entire nerve course.

But that’s not all!

Since sciatica is all about nerve compression, you might experience more than just sciatica knee pain. Your sciatic nerve is responsible for controlling movement, so weakness in the affected leg or difficulty moving it can also be part of the picture.

A person holding their back.

Sciatica can be caused by various conditions, and three common ones are:

  1. Slipped Disc: This is the most frequent cause of sciatica. It occurs when the soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine, known as a disc, bulges or herniates, resulting in pressure on the nerve roots.
  2. Spinal Stenosis: This condition involves the narrowing of the spinal canal, which is the passageway through which the nerves travel. The reduced space can compress the nerves, leading to sciatica symptoms.
  3. Spondylolisthesis: In spondylolisthesis, one of the vertebrae in the spine slips out of its normal position and may press on the nearby nerves, causing sciatica pain and discomfort.

Can Sciatica cause knee pain?

To determine the exact cause of knee pain and whether it’s related to sciatica or another pathology, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional.

They can conduct a thorough examination, review medical history, and may order imaging tests to diagnose the underlying issue accurately and recommend appropriate treatment.

A person holding their knee.

Let’s dive into how sciatic nerve knee pain can come about.

As mentioned earlier, the sciatic nerve starts in your lower back and then travels through your buttocks and down the back of your leg.

As it goes along this path, it branches off into two important nerves, called the tibial nerve and the common fibular nerve, right near your knee. These nerves provide sensation to the back and sides of your lower leg and the bottom of your foot.

Now, when the sciatic nerve gets compressed or irritated, like in cases of sciatica, it can cause some issues. You might experience pain, tingling, and numbness that radiate from your lower back through your buttocks and down the back of your leg.

And guess what?

Sometimes this discomfort can extend all the way to your knee and beyond! That’s because the same nerve responsible for the sensations in your lower leg and foot is affected.

A person holding their knee.

Here are some of the symptoms you might experience with sciatica-related knee pain:

  1. Sharp or shooting pain in the knee: Even though it feels like the pain is coming from your knee, it’s usually because of the sciatic nerve being compressed higher up in your leg.
  2. Tingling and numbness: Although you would usually feel these sensations in your lower back and glutes, you can also experience them around the knee.
  3. Weakness or difficulty moving the leg: Since the sciatic nerve plays a role in controlling leg movement, you might notice some weakness or difficulty moving your leg due to nerve compression.
  4. Pain with specific movements: Sciatica-related knee pain can get worse with activities that involve bending, twisting, or flexing your lower back.

So there it is, sciatica can result in knee pain. However, here are some other common causes of knee pain, particularly in runners:

A runner holding their knee.

#1: Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee, also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), is a common condition that can hinder your running training and keep you sidelined.

It is characterized by pain around the patellar tendon, and its prevalence in female runners ranges from 19% to 30% and in male runners from 13% to 25%.

Symptoms of Runner’s knee include dull to moderate pain at the front or back of the knee, discomfort during squatting, and increased pain when walking downstairs or downhill.

Proper diagnosis involves assessing knee pain during resisted muscle contraction and excluding other related conditions.

#2: Bursitis

Knee bursitis is inflammation of a small fluid-filled sac above and inside your knee or on your kneecap. The most common pain occurs over the kneecap (prepatellar bursitis) or on the inner side of your knee below the joint (Pes Anserine bursitis).

It can cause pain in the front of the knee when bent or inner knee pain after running.

The condition is usually caused by irritation of the bursa due to increased mileage or intensity too quickly.

Treatment focuses on symptom relief, including rest, ice, and heat, along with anti-inflammatories for pain. Strengthening the knee can help prevent future injuries.

A runner holding their knee.

#3: Meniscus Tear

A meniscus tear is a common knee injury that occurs when the cartilage between your shin and thigh bones tears. It causes pain and swelling around the knee, making it difficult to extend your leg fully.

Meniscus tears are often caused by overuse or sudden movements, like twisting or changing directions.

Treatment for a torn meniscus is usually conservative. Rest, ice, heat, and NSAIDs can help with symptom relief. Surgery is not always necessary, and in many cases, you can resume running once the pain and swelling subside.

What helps knee pain from sciatica?

So, what helps knee pain from sciatica? For most people, conservative treatment, including pain management protocols, are the preferred course of action. There is little evidence to classify one treatment as the most effective.

Here are some treatment options to consider:

An ice pack on a back.

#1: Ice And Heat

Early-stage sciatica can benefit from cold therapy, which involves applying cold packs or ice to the lower lumbar portion of the spine where the sciatic nerve is located.

Cold therapy helps reduce nerve conduction, providing relief from sharp pain and sensitivity caused by nerve injuries. It also reduces blood flow to the affected area, resulting in numbness and pain relief.

Cold therapy should be used within the first 48 to 72 hours of experiencing symptoms, applied three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes, and should not be overused to avoid skin or nerve damage.

On the other hand, heat therapy can benefit sciatica by increasing circulation, delivering oxygen and nutrients to support the healing of soft tissue, and soothing stiff muscles, reducing painful muscle spasms.

Heat can be applied through heat pads, hot water bottles, warm baths, or spending time in a sauna.

The choice between heat and ice therapy depends on individual preferences and the stage of sciatica.

In the acute phase with inflammation and sharp pain, ice therapy may be more beneficial, while heat therapy may be more suitable as the pain becomes less intense.

Alternating between heat and ice therapy can be effective for some individuals.

A person doing a plank.

#2: Movement

To alleviate sciatica knee pain, it’s essential to avoid activities that trigger discomfort and to minimize prolonged sitting or standing. Instead, try to regularly change your position, shifting from sitting to standing or vice versa, to reduce stress on the nerve.

Try to incorporate exercises that focus on strengthening your core. Strengthening the core muscles can help provide better overall body support.

Gentle stretching of the lumbar spine and hamstrings can also be helpful. Stretching promotes flexibility and can relieve tension in the lower back and leg muscles.

Engaging in regular light exercises like walking, swimming, or aqua therapy can be beneficial for your sciatica. These low-impact activities help improve blood flow, and maintain joint mobility.

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#3: Knee Brace For Sciatica

Should you use a knee brace for sciatica? The effectiveness of a knee brace for knee pain depends on the underlying cause of the pain and the specific condition being treated.

Knee braces are not a one size fits all fix for sciatic knee pain; however, if you are finding that you are experiencing weakness and buckling in your leg, a knee brace may be able to offer support.

A person holding their back.

Final Thoughts: Can sciatica cause knee pain?

Sciatica can indeed cause knee pain, along with discomfort in the lower back, glutes, and down the leg. However, there are other pathologies that may exhibit the same symptoms.

In order to alleviate knee pain from sciatica, conservative treatments are usually recommended.

If you experience knee pain related to sciatica or any other condition, seeking professional medical advice is crucial to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

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Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

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