Experiencing back pain together with leg pain? Some people might refer to that as “lumbago with sciatica.” Although these terms aren’t as commonly used as they once were, the concepts are still familiar to many people today—though they just might be calling them something different.

What is lumbago?

The definition of lumbago is “acute or chronic pain (such as that caused by muscle strain) in the lower back.” It was probably one of the first words used to describe back and buttock pain, existing before we had the more advanced knowledge of the spine that we have today. The same is true of “sciatica.” Now, our understanding of the causes of back and leg pain is more sophisticated than ever before. As a result, we can use more specific terms to talk about back pain, which could be caused by anything from muscles and joints to bones and discs.


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Lumbago is a general term. When people today say they have lumbago, they are usually referring to a chronic, fairly low-level ache in the lower back. It is more often than not caused by the natural degeneration of the spine that happens as we get older. (It’s rare that the term would be applied to a specific condition caused by a one-time event.) This type of back pain tends to “act up” or get worse occasionally, which may necessitate over-the-counter medication. Degeneration may also cause pain in the buttocks, but doesn’t usually cause leg pain extending beyond the knee.

Lumbago With Sciatica

Pain that goes down the leg is sometimes referred to as sciatica. The sciatic nerve—the longest and largest nerve in the body—is formed by several individual nerves that exit the lower levels of the spine and then come together just a few centimeters out, around your buttocks. It runs down the back of the leg all the way to the foot.

Sometimes a nerve root that becomes part of the sciatic gets pinched, or compressed; it could be the result of a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or bone spurs, for example. Depending on which root is being compressed and where it leads to, people may feel pain in a specific place, for example in the leg or foot, usually on either the left side or right side only. (The medical term for conditions caused by compressed nerves in the spine is radiculopathy.) In rare cases, pain may also be due to something called piriformis syndrome, which happens when the piriformis muscle near the buttocks gets tight and presses up against the sciatic nerve where it exits the pelvis.

When is it lumbago—and when is it something else?

If your back pain persists and worsens beyond a low-level ache, it could be the sign of an infection or a tumor, among other things. If the pain is worse when you’re sitting, it could signal a disc issue. If it hurts more when you stand up or lean backwards, the pain could have to do with your facet joints.

Lumbago can be the result of a more serious condition, so visit a doctor if your back pain gets worse over time.

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